Grown Together, St Margaret’s House, Edinburgh

Publication: The Times
Visual Art: Giles Sutherland 

Grown Together
St Margaret’s House
Until 26 November


The human relationship with the tree – our planet’s largest and lonest living organism – extends from the destructive and exploitative to the religious and mythological.  Many aspects of this complex set of connections are explored here by an international group of 18 artists, poets, makers and designers, in a venue that has itself become a hub of creativity and positivism.

The sheer diversity and inventiveness on display here, in a large, well-appointed gallery space, means that most will find something that will touch them on a number of levels. The show’s curator, Tansy Lee Moir, is herself a talented artist and draughts-person whose connection with trees is intense and passionate. Her studies of dead, burred elms, twisted and knotted with age and disease, have an empathy that extends well beyond mere observation. She imbues these images with a degree of suffering and anthropomorphism, which leaves no doubt that there is an intimate reverence by the artist for her subject.

The Austrian artist Teresa Hunyadi works with wood on the most immediate level, cutting, sculpting, honing and shaping her material with reverence, and imagination.  A small work here, Juniper, signifies its own source but also comes close to a type of ‘pure’ sculpture, referencing archetypal forms, such a boat or weapon. 

Steve Smart, who divides his time between various disciplines, has created a video and photographic work, as well as a collection of poems; like Moir, he finds striking affinities between the human body and dendritic form: “Canopies of broad splayed chests, nipple findings, / swelling bellies, shouldering hollows, palm curved hips.”

The company Full Grown specialises in making furniture from living trees through a combination of grafting and nurturing. The results can be both captivating and eerie, as a striking willow chair shows. It is at once alive and almost animate, although its form clearly takes priority over its function.

Anne Gilchrist celebrates the technique of pyrography, where lines are burned on wood using a specially created tool akin to a soldering iron. Here she has taken fragments of the famous Birnam Oak and created traceries of flowers and leaves in random patterns. Polish artist Katarzyna Sola skilfully uses porcelain to echo and depict leaves and other tree-derived forms. Charlotte Eva Bryan, who works as an art therapist, has made a meticulous, detailed drawing in tribute to the Pollok Beech, an important ‘wishing’ tree, which was burned and badly damaged by vandals earlier this year.

There’s a real feast of ideas and images here, from artists who deeply engage with their subject matter and material.