The Ghost Forest was one of the featured attractions in Copenhagen during the United Nations COP15 climate change conference. The outdoor exhibition presented a series of rainforest tree stumps from Ghana as a ghost forest, using the space created by the missing trunks as a metaphor for climate change, the absence representing the removal of the world’s lungs through continued deforestation.
British environmental activist and artist Angela Palmer made several field trips to a commercially logged primary rainforest in Ghana where she and a team sourced a group of 10 tree stumps. The Ghost Forest was exhibited in Trafalgar Square in London November 16-22, courtesy of the GLA. Over the period 7-16 December, Ghost Forest was exhibited in Copenhagen’s Thorvaldsens Plads, a city centre square next to Parliament Square and the National Museum.
Seven indigenous species are represented – Denya, Dahuma, Danta, Hyedua, Mahogany,Wawa and three varieties of Celtis.
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Angela Palmer talks about the ways people respond to the exhibition.
Like all art, Ghost Forest can be appreciated or interpreted in many ways and on many levels – no response is right or wrong. Many observers will see the stumps as beautiful sculptural objects; others will perhaps see the installation as a scene of devastation – perhaps evoking Paul Nash’s rendering of the stark landscape of the First World War where only the splintered tree stumps remain in the devastated land. Others may see the tree stumps posited in the no-man’s land between the past and the future – the past representing the life and growth of these trees, their potential, and what they provided biologically for the planet; while the future may signal, for some, an imperilled world, as the consequences of deforestation continues apace – another ‘New World’. For others the installation may represent an overt piece of political activism – a call to arms. I am equally comfortable with all responses. Many thinkers maintain that all art is political; politics touches all aspects of our lives. Life is about politics. And art is about communication, often transmitting unpalatable truths. As one artist commented: ‘I don’t think artists can avoid being political. Artists are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. When we stop singing, it’s a sure sign of repressive times ahead.’
The Ghost Forest tree stumps –- most of which fell naturally in adverse weather conditions –- come from the Suhuma forest reserve in Western Ghana, a selectively logged concession run by John Bitar and Co, one of the largest timber producers in Ghana. They operate under license from the Ghana Forestry Commission and run a Chain of Custody tracking system.
The Ghost Forest project was supported by John Bitar and Co, run by Ghassan Bitar and Sebastian Houweling. The company works in collaboration with WWF, Ghana’s Wildlife Wood Project, the EU, and the Zoological Society of London on various conservation and community programmes. The company has begun a reforestation program which involves planting 25 million trees on degraded land over the next five years.
Zafer Adra, the forest manager and Ntim Gyakari, a botanist and former curator of the Herbarium in Kumasi, Ghana, helped identify the tree stumps and oversee their removal from the forest.
The University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science has assisted throughout the project, and with the presentation of the trees in Trafalgar Square and Copenhagen.
The project has the support of Deutsche Bank, the main sponsor; Arts Council England; the Global Canopy Programme; Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests.