Highlights of the exhibition include Wahaha Biota, a major new video commissioned by Forestry Commission England and Crescent Arts; Company of Trees, which premiered at the prestigious Venice Biennale as part of ‘Wales in Venice’; and Paintball Pictures, exhibited for the first time.
For over thirty years, Helen Sear has been making artworks about how humans experience landscape and nature. Prospect Refuge Hazard is titled after Jay Appleton’s influential theories on our deep-seated responses to the dangers of the natural environment, and why we find certain environments ‘beautiful’.
The film Wahaha Biota (2018, 27 mins) was made during a year-long residency in Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire, and responds to the diverse activities that take place in the forest. A soundtrack mingles birdsong and deer calls with snippets of lyrics from the many rock concerts staged in the forest, all forming a human ‘dawn chorus’.
Company of Trees (2015, 11 mins) was inspired by walking near the artist’s home in rural Wales, and features an enigmatic woman in a red dress who circles around beech trees branded with tree fellers’ numbers. Presented as large-scale projections with timed screenings, the two films offer viewers the chance to be fully immersed in the forest and experience the environment in new and sometimes surprising ways.
Paintball Pictures (2018) is a series of 24 photographs that have been produced especially for Impressions Gallery and have never been exhibited before. Woodland scenes are transformed by the strange paraphernalia and brightly-coloured detritus of paintball battles, a leisure pursuit mirroring the system originally developed for forestry workers to mark trees.
Other works in the exhibition include Altar (2015, 8 mins), a vignetted film observing blue tits and coal tits; Stack (2015), an 8-metre long image presented on aluminium ‘planks’ that lean against the walls; and Becoming Forest (2017), a series of photographs in which tangles of new forest growth are digitally traced by the artist.
Helen Sear (b.UK, 1955) studied Fine Art at Reading University and the Slade School, University College London. Her work came to prominence in the 1991 British Council exhibition De-Composition: Constructed Photography in Britain, which toured extensively throughout Latin America and Eastern Europe. Her black and white portraits Twice…Once were included in the exhibition About Face at the Hayward Gallery, London in summer 2004 and La Mirada Reflexiva at the Espai D’Art Contemporani in Castellon Spain in 2005. Grounded, curated by Impressions Gallery, was exhibited as a national tour between 2003 and 2005. Other solo exhibitions include Inside The View, shown at Gallery Harmonia in Finland in 2006, and Beyond The View at Klompching Gallery, New York in 2010. Since moving to Wales in 1984, the artist continued to teach in Wales and elsewhere, and exhibit internationally, with exhibitions in Canada, New York and Stutgart. She was the first woman to represent Wales with a solo exhibition at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, the largest and most prestigious visual arts exhibition in the world. Her many publications include Twice (Zelda Cheatle Press, 2002), Inside the View (Ffotogallery, 2012), Brisées (GOST, 2013) and …the rest is smoke (Ffotogallery, 2015). She is currently visiting professor at the Royal Academy Schools London with forthcoming exhibitions in Eindhoven and Basel in 2019.
Wahaha Biota was commissioned by Forestry Commission England at Dalby Forest in partnership with Crescent Arts and supported by Arts Council England. Company of Trees and Altar were supported by Arts Council Wales, Wales in Venice and Ffotogallery. Becoming Forest is presented courtesy Martin Asbæk Gallery, Copenhagen. Paintball Pictures is supported by Spectrum Photo.