Luminescent sentient artwork seeks to explore the Forest of Dean’s hidden secrets

Walkers viewing Sentient Forest by Andrea Roe. Photo by Max McClure
Walkers viewing Sentient Forest by Andrea Roe. Photo by Max McClure

Artist Andrea Roe reveals the unseen communication between trees in the artwork, Sentient Forest, a temporary commission by the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail in collaboration with Forestry Commission England.

Sentient Forest seeks to reveal secrets hidden in the forest. Roe’s commission brings the Trail into the 21st century with a technological artwork that utilises LEDs and sensors to create an interactive piece that responds to the presence of viewers. The new work is part of a series of new commissions for the Trail that will be revealed over the coming year, which includes the recently unveiled artwork by Onya McCausland.

In collaboration with electronic engineer Al Bennett, Roe made Sentient Forest in response to a scientific theory that suggests every forest has its own communication system known as mycelium, which enables a network of information and nutrients to pass between fungi and trees.

She uses individually programmable LEDs along with interactive sensors to pick up the presence of the viewer and make visible the flow of information between trees. The artwork exposes the interconnectedness of all living matter and reveals the symbiotic nature of trees and fungi as well as the complexity of growth and decay on and below the forest floor.

“The Forest of Dean commission has given me the opportunity to investigate and visualise fungi to tree communication, a subject that fascinates and intrigues me,” commented Roe. “I imagined that instead of seeking out an artwork on the forest trail, the artwork would ‘sense’ you. Al Bennett and I have produced a microcontroller-driven lighting system which mimics underground mycelial networks and, when triggered, communicates the presence of passing walkers to nearby trees.”

The Sculpture Trail has a 30-year heritage of commissioning contemporary artworks and installations that explore and reflect the place in which they are situated.

Andrew Stonyer, Chair of the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust, commented, “As the forest lives, breathes, grows and dies, so do the artworks that have evolved here over the past thirty years. This next generation of newly commissioned public works breathe new life into the Trail, offering visitors something new to explore, as we seek to introduce new ideas and understandings of the Forest of Dean.”

Judith Lack, Forestry Commission Recreation Manager, “We’re very excited to be welcoming a new artwork to the Sculpture Trail that will inspire all ages. The Sculpture Trail is instrumental in bringing people to the forest, enabling them to enjoy its beauty and to explore the woods in a different way.”


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