It was like seeing the nerve endings of the planet
Whether you perceive them as beautiful sculptural objects or a scene of devastation, giant tree stumps from an African rainforest are the last thing you expect to see in London's tourist (and traffic) trap, Trafalgar Square.
Unveiled this week on a rainy Monday morning, the tree stumps, many complete with their buttress roots, have been transported from a regulated, commercially logged tropical primary forest in Ghana.
It's a surreal sight - the stumps lie on their sides on plinths placed around Nelson's Column which towers above them at a height of 50 metres. Had the trees been left in the forest, these stumps that once had trunks would have stood at around the same height.
Entitled 'Ghost Forest', the installation is the vision of British artist Angela Palmer, and its intention is to inspire and provoke debate about the future of the world's rainforests.
'The concept is to present the series of rainforest tree stumps as a 'ghost forest' - using the negative space created by the missing trunks as a metaphor for climate change,' says Palmer, 'the absence representing the removal of the world's ‘lungs' through continual deforestation.'
The artist originally planned to exhibit the tree stumps upright, but on seeing the roots exposed and cleaned of soil decided 'it was like seeing the nerve endings of the planet'.
Palmer chose to source the tree stumps from Ghana, which over the last 50 years has lost 90 per cent of its primary rainforest.
But instead of being 'yet another message about climate change doom and gloom,' says the artist, Ghost Forest 'carries a message of hope and optimism for the future.'
She maintains that Ghana is now at the vanguard of responsible and sustainable forestry.
Last year it became the first country in Africa to enter the VPA (Voluntary Partnership Agreement) with the European Union in an effort to outlaw illegal logging.
Its remaining concessions are all selectively logged, which means the retention, crucially, of the forest canopy; the natural regeneration of the forest; and a viable and sustainable timber industry for the local workforce.
Palmer carefully considered the carbon cost of the project but felt that its potential message to millions of people on the impacts of deforestation would outweigh the carbon 'spend'.
There are also plans to offset the carbon footprint through a ClimateCare project which has introduced more energy efficient cooking stoves to Ghana, meaning fewer trees are needed to provide cooking.
The installation, whose main sponsor is Deutschbank, will stand in Trafalgar Square for one week, between 16-22 November, before moving to Thorvaldsens Plads - a city centre square in Copenhagen - to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference from December 7-18.
In Copenhagen, Ghost Forest will stand as a symbol of threatened rainforest trees throughout the world.
Follow the progress of the project at www.ghostforest.org
Laura Sevier is the Ecologist's Green Living Editor
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