Brighton Festival: immerse yourself in a magical forest realm

For its 25th anniversary, Brighton’s Fabrica is presenting its most immersive and memorable exhibition to date as the organisation welcomes The Forked Forest Path by Olafur Eliasson.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 1:05 pm
Fabrica: The Forked Forest Park. Pic by Tom Thistlethwaite
Fabrica: The Forked Forest Park. Pic by Tom Thistlethwaite

The work will take over the former church in the form of a forest they have grown sustainably.

Produced in collaboration with Brighton Festival, the exhibition will run from May 18 to June 20 and will invite visitors to immerse themselves in a space filled with branches, saplings and thinnings.

Dive in and you will soon give yourself up to the illusion of being lost in a dense wooded environment. With branches and material locally and sustainably sourced, The Forked Forest Path evokes a strong sense of ‘the woods’ and of our relationship to this particular aspect of nature and its place in our human folklore.

The artist’s stipulation for recreating The Forked Forest Path is that exhibitors must source branches and saplings locally and sustainably in order to create it.

As with many of Eliasson’s works, audiences are encouraged to engage physically with it in order to immerse themselves fully in the experience.

In this case, visitors enter via a narrow winding path which forks in the middle of the installation where they must actively choose one path to continue their adventure.

Eliasson is known for his commission The Weather Project (2003) which recreated a replica of the sun in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Created in 1998, and one of the artist’s earlier works, The Forked Forest Path is part of Towner Eastbourne’s Collection, a collection with a focus on landscape and environment, among other themes.

The work has previously been shown in gallery spaces but Fabrica offers a fresh and different proposition, creating the opportunity for Eliasson’s piece to connect sculpturally and materially with the architecture of the building.

Since 2019 Fabrica have been working with Foxwood Forestry near Lewes, East Sussex and the Stanmer Park management team, part of Brighton & Hove City Council, to generate the material for the exhibition. When the exhibition closes, the wood will be chipped and recycled as mulch for growing new trees at Stanmer Park.

Liz Whitehead, director of Fabrica, is thrilled that the project has come to fruition after a couple of years in the planning: “I am really interested in – and always have been – in installation art and he has made the most amazing installations, often using these really basic sensory aspects to materials. And his work is also quite participative. It really needs you to activate the piece. You just can’t do it if you just look at it like a picture. If you are actually in it, you get it. I have always found this aspect to his work really exciting.

“This piece is made from wood, but it is cut wood. The experience is like going through a thick woodland thicket almost, those pathways that emerge when you go into really dense woodland. It is made from 3,000 pieces of thinned wood or saplings.”

The pieces are cut as part of woodland management – ie they are sourced sustainably. In fact, that is one of the requirements: “It has to be produced sustainably. That is part of the cycle of the whole thing.

“You start from scratch each time, and the work itself is like a set of instructions. One of the conditions is that you have to get the wood locally. You can show this anywhere, but if you were doing this in Japan, say, you would have to source the wood locally in Japan.”

The result, as Liz says, is a really magical space “where you can get lost and let your imagination run wild. It seems to trip off all sorts of memories of maybe dens in the woods or fairy stories.

“And there is a fork and you get to choose which way you will go. But also at the end, you are always aware that this is an artwork and it makes you curious to go back to a real wood and realise just how amazingly special a real wood is, so much more than an artwork can be.”

Fabrica will reopen its doors on May 18 in line with government restrictions. To ensure everyone can enjoy a safe and comfortable experience the capacity in the gallery will be limited in order to maintain social distancing and a one-way route around the installation will be in operation. Face coverings must be worn unless exempt and track and trace will be in operation on entry.

Opening hours from May 18 until June 20 are Tues-Sun 11am-6pm, closed Mon except May Bank Holiday.