Haldon Forest Park

Programme Summary

The move from exploring expensive building options with heritage partners to a more achievable collaboration with the Forestry Commission (FC) in the Haldon Forest Park (HFP) took some time to adjust to.

Arts activities based in forests, such as the Grizedale Forest and Forest of Dean, were well established and so CCANW made a conscious decision to avoid creating another sculpture park or trail. Furthermore, although it was no longer maintained, the Beginner’s Way trail had already been created at Haldon by the artist Jamie McCullough in the 1980s; this would be featured in an exhibition in 2007.

Our new programme included artist residencies, commissions, long-term projects and exhibitions, often organised under wider themes and supported by learning opportunities, talks and other activities including live music and films. These were largely publicised to our mailing list of around 3,000 through 20 seasonally printed programmes over the period 2006-13.

CCANW’s Project Space in spring 2006. Photo Chris Lewis.

Visitors and participants in our first year at Haldon totalled 25,000, averaging out at around 40,000 in subsequent years. There was a rapid growth in overall HFP visitor numbers which in 2007/8 totalled 224,000, rising to around 300,000 in 2011.


Pre-opening residencies and a commission

Whilst work was being undertaken on our building and on creating trails and infrastructure at Haldon, we organised three residencies in the grounds of nearby Haldon Belvedere, the most notable of which produced a sculpture based on the Kayagum (a traditional Korean musical instrument) made by Seung-hyun Ko from the limb of a beech tree.

Tabatha Andrews undertook a residency at Haldon just before our opening, introducing a large root ball into the Project Space. Dave Pritchard created an installation Dendros: Horizons of Change along one of the forest trails. The FC asked us to advise on the creation of an oak bench at the prominent Mamhead viewpoint and this was commissioned from Robert Kilvington. Unfortunately, we were not consulted by the FC over the creation of works on the Play and Sensory Trails.


University of the Trees

The University of the Trees (UOT) long-term project was developed during 2006 and launched at an event on World Environment Day, 5 June 2007. UOT was a participatory project developed by Shelley Sacks, Director of the Social Sculpture Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University in collaboration with CCANW.

Using a kit developed by Shelley, that she describes as ‘instruments of consciousness, not objects of attention’ in the traditional art sense, the project explored new ways of perceiving and acting that emerge from a deepened understanding of our relationship with trees, forests and the natural world. The project took forward the social sculpture strategies embedded in Joseph Beuys’ ‘expanded conception of art’.


Forest Dreaming

The CCANW Project Space opened in April 2006 with several launch activities. Our main aim was to organise exhibitions and activities under over-arching themes, and the first was to explore how people feel about being in a forest.

The title Forest Dreaming was chosen to suggest an imaginative and wide-ranging approach and was inspired by a photograph by Annelies Strba which was then featured on the cover of our first brochure. Forest Dreaming (April 2006-April 2007) developed into an eight part programme showing work by over 50 artists researched in consultation with curator Angela Kingston, and culminating with one that focussed on Beginner’s Way.


Wood Culture

The second theme Wood Culture (May 2007-September 2008) involved an exploration of the use of sustainably grown timber in architecture and design – an obvious choice because of Haldon being a working forest. This was organised into five exhibitions, accompanied by a series of events and activities; Wood Wisdom, Inspiring Futures, Wood Works, Timber Talent South West and Wonder Wood. The programme was researched by White Design Associates, Juliet Bidgood of NEAT and Oliver Lowenstein of Fourth Door Research.

During Wood Culture, Matthew Pontin and Sean Hellman each undertook residencies and the long-term project University of the Trees was launched. A timber geodesic dome and outdoor stage were commissioned and a publication for Inspiring Futures produced. Several of these exhibitions were toured to other galleries and we contributed to a major conference at Exeter University.

The exhibition panels for Wood Wisdom, Inspiring Futures and Timber Talent South West were sold for a nominal sum to Jez Ralph of the Silvanus Trust in 2013 when CCANW left Haldon. Jez played an important role in the Wood Culture programme, linking foresters and architects, and went on to found Evolving Forests in 2014.


Greenhouse Britain

The concept of themes continued, especially when they coincided with regional, national and international programmes, partnership and funding opportunities. It was envisaged that CCANW would initiate much of its own programming but that guest curators would be employed from time to time.

We were also open to host exhibitions from other organisations, the first being Greenhouse Britain (November-December 2007) which was inserted between the second and third exhibitions in the Wood Culture series in order to take advantage of an unexpected offer from ecoartscotland. Ghosts in the Wood, a project by Mike Smallcombe which was already funded, involved a series of large photographic panels installed in the forest at the end of Wood Culture.


Haldon’s Hidden Heritage

The next programming phase focussed on Haldon’s Hidden Heritage (October 2008-January 2009). The Haldons were often referred to as the ‘hidden’ hills of Devon, and CCANW took advantage of additional funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to organise an ambitious exhibition, largely researched by local historian Iain Fraser, accompanied by activities which covered its geology and prehistory, to the establishment of its country mansions. A brochure based on Haldon’s Hidden Heritage was also produced. The exhibition panels were shown in local schools and eventually donated in 2013 to the Stringer Lawrence Memorial Trust that owns Haldon Belvedere.

In 2023, the FC commissioned Northbank to design panels based on Haldon’s Hidden Heritage to be erected along the Raptor Trail at Haldon.


The Animal Gaze

The Animal Gaze (January-April 2009) was unique in several respects. Again, it benefitted from a guest curator, Rosemarie McGoldrick from London Metropolitan University, but it was linked to Darwin200 which marked the birth of Darwin and publication of On the Origin of Species. Because Darwin had set sail from Plymouth in 1831 on his most influential voyage of discovery, CCANW proposed an exhibition of over 40 artists which embraced a further four venues in Plymouth. This was to be the first initiative of the Plymouth Visual Arts Consortium and it benefitted from a huge amount of shared publicity and expertise.


Local and International artists

Between 2009-11, CCANW organised a series of exhibitions featuring the work of established local and international artists which linked to wider environmental concerns, including water, the economy, fashion and the importance of trees.

As a prelude to Devon-based sculptor Peter Randall-Page’s major exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, CCANW organised Natural Selection (April-May 2009). This focussed on work permanently in the West Country which had been photographed, alongside drawings, maquettes and films. Reflections on Water (July-October 2009) brought together the work of Canadian artist Marlene Creates, Devon-based Susan Derges and Vikky Minette, and Andrej Zdravic from Slovenia. Forest Tunes (October-November 2009) showed the work of Shai Zakai, founder of the Israeli Forum for Ecological Art, engendering a strong response from local pro-Palestinian supporters.

Several exhibitions involved collaboration with art schools and other organisations and engaged with other art forms such as ecopoetics (June 2009). Art, Ecology and the Economy (January-March 2010) involved a collaboration with the Duchy Square Centre for Creativity and a focus on the Greater Dartmoor area.


Fashion, Textiles and the Environment

The programme Fashion, Textiles and the Environment (May 2010-February 2011) was a deliberate effort to engage with an area of creative work which involved, and would engage with, a greater number of women; creating a balance with Wood Culture which had a predominance of male involvement. Our main initiative was Fashion Footprints, bracketed between an exhibition by Lucy Orta lent by Plymouth Art Centre and Material Actions from Plymouth College of Art.

Fashion Footprints (August-November 2010) was curated by four recent graduates from the MA Fashion and the Environment course at the London College of Fashion; an exhibition in several sections printed on to a bamboo-based fabric accompanied by garments. The exhibition toured to Create in Bristol and the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Falmouth. The exhibition was accompanied by numerous practical workshops, an eco-fashion show in the forest and a conference in Taunton.

As part of our Wool Culture programme, a Wool Directory was initiated in partnership with Claire Crompton, linking British wool producers with textile makers and users. Lack of continued funding meant it was wound up in 2016.


Tree Culture

On the occasion of the International Year of Forests in 2011, CCANW organised its Tree Culture programme (April 2011-March 2012). This was launched by an exhibition of the work of David Nash, selected from an exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and involved us lending a major work to Dartington Hall. This was followed by a residency for Active Ingredient who worked with scientists in the UK and Brazil to create the exhibition A Conversation Between Trees; a continuation of the University of the Trees project; and Rising Sap, featuring artwork by young people inspired by trees.

The construction of the timber geodesic Dome to be used as an outdoor classroom was begun, being launched in October 2012. A proposal for an ambitious artwork by Alan Sonfist in the forest was begun, but never completed.


Games People Play

As our contribution to the Cultural Olympiad, CCANW organised the Games People Play programme (April 2012-February 2013) to explore what games can tell us about ‘human nature’ and the advantages of cooperation over competition. The first part or ’round’ focussed on a selection of early board games, war games and local games.

The second round focussed on contemporary photography and video by artists who use sporting imagery to comment on the human condition, culminating in a capacity audience at the Phoenix Art Centre, Exeter, for a talk by Martin Parr.

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