Dr Edson

Hollow - A Wood Sculpture by Katie Paterson

A Miniature Forest

Yesterday evening at Bristol University, artist Katie Paterson, architects Zeller & Moye, Dr Jon Bridle and Dr Edson Burton discussed the process of bringing together 10,000 tree species from all over the world to create Hollow. Hollow is a unique artwork now open to the public at Royal Fort Gardens, Bristol. Here's an account of the team's discussion at the Powell Lecture Theatre, Bristol University.

A World of Wood

Katie is working with woods from all over the world. It has taken three years to get the samples using a whole number of approaches. Discovering a whole world of wood from wood libraries, a network of wood collectors, donations from walking sticks to wood from Hiroshima which contains within it, it's memory of that moment. Every piece has its own unique history, a different country, a different time.

Spiritual Acropolis

Architect Christoph Zeller describes the design as very geometric, stark and minimalist yet complex and made up of immense clusters of different shapes and sizes like stalactites.

Jon Bridle describes his response to Hollow as surprisingly spiritual.

“Like the Alhambra in Granada, when you visit Hollow you are engaging with the living world, these pieces of wood are a testament to all these other eco-systems in the world.” Jon Bridle

Jon says Katie has created a new living space, one place, an acropolis in which to share these memories.

“It's a place you want to look and be intimate with wood and try and go beyond the patterns that nature creates.” Jon Bridle

The Narrative of Wood

Katie explains how they catalogued every single piece of wood down to the detail. They broke the structure into two zones, the ancient trees at the base and the near extinct trees at the top. The rest of the decision making was more organic. Organising every single piece of wood into a specific place with their own narrative would only take away from the beauty of what already exists within each piece of wood. So the placing of each piece of wood was more chaotic and random.

Time is already the structure. Each piece of wood already holds it own narrative.
— Katie Paterson

Jon Bridle agrees.

“The concept is easy to imagine. The actual experience, being inside Hollow is a very unexpected experience - it's almost insulting to re-order them with another narrative when it has its own - you can't judge by appearance what it's history is.” Jon Bridle

Breaking Boundaries - Art & Architecture

Architect Ingrid Moye talked about the challenging but unique relationship of the artist and architect during this project. She never expected to work with an artist in this way. The piece had to be functional and equally conceptually innovative. They were working with something new which was challenging and she was really happy with the process. It was the best experience and has broken the boundaries between the artist and architect. As Katie points out, Hollow would never exist without this collaboration.

“It is so much richer when we layer up experience and expertise.” Katie Paterson

Usually an artist is brought in as an add-on to work with an architect during the planning stage which is poor for the artist but for Christopher Zeller this collaboration was completely different from the outset. Both artist and architect had an equal part in the process which really pushed the boundaries.

”This was a one-to-one dialogue - a true merge into something that neither would have come up with alone.” ChristopherZeller

Symbiosis - Art & Science

The same goes for artists and and scientists as Jon Bridle reveals how Turner, the artist, was really engaged with science. He felt that science helped him to have a closer interaction with nature. Jon feels that both artists and scientists have a constant ability to refine and reflect and be prepared to be wrong. Art and science cannot exist without the other. Each one helps the other to expand. When you work in this way things don't turn out as you expect. And as Jon points out, Hollow didn't turn out as expected. The process of collaboration and the shape and origins of the wood helped to guide the process.

“Nature forces you - it doesn't care what you think.” Jon Bridle

Hollow, Wood and the Elements

For Hollow to survive the elements Katie needed to work out a way to preserve the wood for more than one season, keeping the wood as natural as possible with no finishes or oils as to keep the natural colour, texture and smell of the wood. She worked with Christopher Zeller and Ingrid Moye to design a shelter-like structure ensuring most of the wood on the interior was away from direct sunlight. Katie loves the idea that the exposed outside timber will of course change with time and the elements. And as each piece of wood in the sculpture ages, the other half will be protected from the elements as a wood collection at Bristol University.

“With this work, you're dealing with familiar material. Working with it for years does make you think deeper about the what this is. We are so used to this material, but we are not used to thinking about its history - it's had this life with water flowing through it.” Katie paterson


Katie Paterson

Zeller & Moye 

Dr Edson Burton 

Jon Bridle


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