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Silver Forest: An Innovative Public Artwork by Rut Blees Luxemburg

Silver Forest is a permanent large-scale public artwork installed on the western façade of Westminster City Hall, created by photographic artist and Reader in Urban Aesthetics at the Royal College of Art Rut Blees Luxemburg. The project, realised in collaboration with Lynch Architects and developers Land Securities, brings together art, architecture, urban planning and design innovation and is Blees Luxemburg’s first permanent public artwork in London.

Running the length of Westminster City Hall, the seven-metre-tall artwork depicts six views of nocturnal, urban silver birch forests. These photographs, taken by Blees Luxemburg in locations from London to Beijing, have been cast in glass reinforced concrete. This innovative technology, developed by British company Graphic Relief, enables a permanent, incredibly detailed image to be created in three-dimensional sculptural relief. The images subtly shift with changing light conditions and when seen from different perspectives, echoing the textures of the birch bark depicted in the photographs.

Silver Forest draws attention to the fragile relationship between nature and the urban,’ Blees Luxemburg explained. ‘It is not apparent at first, but then becomes clear they are photographs of urban forests. Details reveal that they are forests under strain, but somehow managing to survive.’

Blees Luxemburg was drawn to the silver birch for its graphic aesthetic, made visible in the iconic scenes of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962), and its almost universal occurrence, being found in cities across Europe and Asia. The image of the forest has many historic and allegorical meanings from spiritual contemplation, reflection and organic renewal, to ideas of refuge, awe and trepidation. In the nineteenth century the silver birch was commonly identified with the female gender and sometimes referred to as Lady Birch. It is also a pioneer species – meaning it is one of the first tree species to grow in disrupted or damaged ecosystems, helping to improve soil quality and enabling other species to flourish.

Blees Luxemburg describes the image of the urban forest as ‘a very positive image of something emerging, that reflects an increased awareness of nature in London'. When Silver Forest was unveiled by Alex Farquharson, Director of Tate Britain, he described the artwork as ‘a signal of our new and emerging values in our built environment’.

Blees Luxemburg has been taking photographs in London for the last 20 years, using large-format photography to investigate the relationship between public urban spaces and their contemporary representation. The installation of photographic works, re-inserting images of cities back into urban space, is a significant element of Blees Luxemburg’s practice and research. Silver Forest follows on from her public installation The Teaser, that filled the courtyard of Somerset House during Photo London 2015. In 2016 the Museum of London exhibited Blees Luxemburg’s series London Dust, which explores the rapid redevelopment of the City of London, acquiring two photographs for their permanent collection. Her photographs are also in the collection of Tate Modern, the V&A and the Centre Pompidou.


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