The Horsham District Year of Culture 2019 is thrilled to be staging Tree and Wood, an immersive musical and theatrical journey into the heart of the beautiful surroundings of Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, in West Sussex.
Running from Thursday 24 October until Saturday 2 November Tree and Wood offers the opportunity for all members of the family to share a unique after-dark experience during half term. Enjoy the stunning surroundings of Leonardslee Gardens as you have never seen them before.
A rare chance to see this highly acclaimed show that charts our relationship with trees through time outdoor journey into sound and song. Never has there been a time that is so important to explore our love and fear of the forest that we rely on for our survival. Produced by Jony Easterby (creator of For the Birds and projection artist for the hugely popular Glow at Wakehurst Place).
But who is Jony Easterby? Jony is an artist, designer, maker, producer, director, performer, a passionate naturalist, and plants-man.
His work is characterised by the diversity of artistic practice used and the range of technologies employed. Each project can be radically different, but there are key ideas and interest informing the approach. There is empathy for the natural world and a sense of its place within culture and social context. Using both digital and analogue media, Jony investigates the boundaries between raw elemental materials, sound technology, composition, landscape, and architecture.
This has resulted in a considerable number of commissions and permanent work installations throughout the UK and abroad, including the ‘Maesteg Wetlands’ – as part of the regeneration of a coalfield washery and the ‘Samphire Tower’ beneath the white cliffs of Dover and many others outlined on www.jonyeasterby.co.uk
The overwhelming existential challenges faced every day due to the environmental collapse of ecosystems have caused me to focus my energies and conceptual framework to address these issues.
After a residency period of research in 2015 facilitated by a Leverhulme Fellowship at the Centre for Alternative Technology his practice has focussed on work addressing both environmental degradation and means of restoration.
The past five years have seen a progressive shift away from permanent public arts projects towards the production of large-scale, collaborative landscape scale arts events ‘Sounding the River’, ‘For-the-Birds’ and most recently ‘Tree and Wood’.
‘Tree and Wood’, has allowed Jony to explore narrative song cycles, folk roots outdoor theatre and new musical collaborations and directions.
Here Jony answers some questions to help you find out more about the man behind Tree and Wood:
What are you up to at the moment?
Jony: At the moment I’m developing a new show, writing songs and ballads reprising a history of woodland and trees, combined with sculpture. It charts the historical narrative of the deforestation of planet earth from prehistory to the modern day. I’m creating a live playing space for this folk opera and am currently making musical instruments out of two-metre-long double-handed saws.
The best folk singers around are involved – Nathaniel Mann, who works with the Dead Rat Orchestra, Lisa Knapp, and then Rebecca Sullivan from a band called Ember who comes from round here. The destruction of the American rainforests gives us an excuse to get the banjos out.
I’m particularly interested in that colonial narrative. We have this idea of the pastoral nature of England but, ecologically, it was messed up years ago. We took For The Birds to New Zealand and the environmental history is similar. We [the British] went out there and torched it, burnt 80 percent of the forest. Within 150 years we’d created extinctions of 25 species of bird. Britain has the lowest tree coverage in the whole of Europe. It stands at around seven percent. Out in Japan, they’ve got 70 percent tree coverage.
Other than that, I live on a working smallholding in the Welsh mountains and spend time creating a space for creative artists and a habitat for birds, plants, and animals. I grew up a Brummie boy, a very urban gritty artist up to the point where I started to implode and went to find solace in the hills
How did you find yourself becoming a qualified landscape architect?
Jony: I found myself involved in public art projects and the scope of these started to encompass various aspects of landscape architecture. I started off as a sound artist, and it evolved into compositions working in indoor venues. Then I realised I didn’t want to work indoor venues anymore, I wanted to work outside, creating architectural spaces that reflected my interest in ecology and landscape. Awareness of ecology is a bit of a curse. I look out on landscapes which are regarded as nature in pastoral form but now I see a degraded landscape, the result of post-industrial farming. Weirdly enough, with the money we make out of art I find time and resources to plant a couple of thousand trees near where I live.
So, in your opinion, what is the nearest to an untouched landscape?
Jony: If I sat down and closed my eyes, the landscape I found deeply satisfying was Tasmania. I truly felt the pull of the wild there, and the fear of the wilderness.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Jony: Ah, him. There’s a book, Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman, relating a multitude of possibilities that happen after you die. In one, you’re at a dinner party and there are 12 people there and they’re all versions of yourself with a seven-year gap between each one. You could have a conversation with your 15-year-old self. I’d tell myself, practice the guitar more and buy a better guitar earlier because I spent years playing a really rubbish guitar. It was only when I bought a better one that I realised how much it had been holding me back.
What book are you reading?
Jony: I’m reading a few simultaneously. The one at the top of the pile next to me is called Arboreal, a very nerdy book so we’ll pass swiftly on. Just below that is a book I got a great thrill out of called The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. The one under that is the most relevant because it’s driving this [folk opera] project. It’s Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, which takes in the environmental history of the US and Canada with particular emphasis on woodland and woodsmen.
When you were a child what were your favourite mythical creatures?
Jony: Am I allowed a superhero? I’ll pick Wolverine. I was way ahead of the curve on that. I had a homemade Wolverine T-shirt, which I created using bleach and which eventually fell to pieces.
Tree and Wood is a fantastic highlight event for the Year of Culture. Set in the forest at the onset of darkness, audiences are invited to take a journey into the forests of Leonardslee Gardens to find themselves exploring a lively and thrilling montage of image, sound, light, and song, allowing people to have a genuinely uniquely immersive experience of the trees at night. Tickets are selling fast, so book yours now via The Capitol Horsham: http://bit.ly/hdyoc19treeandwood
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