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10,000 Tree Samples Make Up This Wooden Cave in Bristol

Max McClure

Katie Paterson in collaboration with Zeller & Moye has gathered 10,000 tree species spanning time and space for Hollow, a new public artwork for Bristol, commissioned by the University of Bristol. Conceived to mark the opening of the University’s new Life Sciences Building, adjacent to the gardens, the project has been organized by Bristol-based arts group, Situations.

Spanning millions of years, Hollow is a miniature forest of all the world’s forests, telling the history of the planet through the immensity of tree specimens in microcosm. The exterior cluster structure reflects a forest canopy’s ecosystem, the forms of the Douglas Fir posts reflecting the varying heights of trees. The interior of Hollow tells the history of the planet through over 10,000 unique tree species, from petrified wood fossils of the earliest forests that emerged 390 million years ago to the most recent emergent species.


From the oldest tree in the world to some of the youngest and near-extinct species, the tree samples contain within them stories of the planet’s history and evolution through time. From the Indian Banyan Tree, under which Buddha achieved enlightenment, to the Japanese Ginkgo tree in Hiroshima, a tree that witnessed and survived one of the darkest moments of human history.


The hollow interior is an introverted and meditative space where, whether sitting or standing, one finds oneself embraced by history, say architects Christoph Zeller and Ingrid Moye. “Our design conjoins thousands of wooden blocks of differing sizes to form one immense cosmos of wood producing textures, apertures and stalactites. Openings in the vaulted top let in just enough natural light to create the dappled light effect of a forest canopy.”


“Some samples are incredibly rare,” says artist Katie Paterson. “Fossils of unfathomable age, and fantastical trees such as Cedar of Lebanon, the Phoenix Palm, and the Methuselah tree, thought to be one of the oldest trees in the World at 4,847 years of age, as well as a railroad tie taken from the Panama Canal Railway, which claimed the lives of between 5,000 to 10,000 workers over its 50 year construction, and wood is salvaged from the remnants of the iconic Atlantic City boardwalk devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.”


The creation of Katie Paterson’s Hollow has been filmed for BBC Four’s What Do Artists Do All Day? series which has been broadcasted in May alongside Forest, Field and Sky, a major new documentary about land art presented by James Fox.

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Katie Paterson and Zeller & Moye, Hollow, 2016. Courtesy of University of Bristol and Situations, Photo, Max McClure