David Nash at the Yorkshire sculpture park


Feb 2011

Standing broad and tall and managing to look large even in a huge gallery space is david Nash’s Occulus. At approx. 2m square, the form is made of one piece of wood, the result of four eucalyptus trees growing and fusing together to become one. The sides are uneven in places, though none protrudes outside the cube form which it has been cut into. Excess wood was sheared off by the artist using a specially constructed double handled chainsaw, and the offcuts stand around the room, sentient, loyal, yet sloughed off the main.

The cut sections of the form still bear the marks of the cutting, and this surface contrasts with the smooth curves of the untouched trunk.

The form dwarfs you. Adults come up less than halfway, and children become smaller just as it becomes larger next to them.

The faint smell of cut wood and charcoal permeates the galleries. Visitors flow in and out of the spaces, and children play around the sculptures. It’s as if the presence of so much blatant nature condones the sense of celebration.

The artist himself wrote that although he believed that he was working in wood, what he actually works in are the four elements, water, air, water and fire. All elements associated with trees and wood.

So it is that all these hunks, hulks and husks of wood become optimistic, as the growth and life of these trees is acknowledged, their wood appreciated in it’s current forms, and the fuel some of them might otherwise have become, had the artist not quenched the flames with his hose.

The neighbouring galleries are host to sliced, split and scorched pieces, all large works in proportion in this setting, but the occulus sits in its own space, regal and quiet. I returned to it twice during the day, and the last time i went there was a large family group visiting with me. I smiled as i remembered the time before when I’d had the space alone with the work, feeling pleased about that. Then, as i was thinking about leaving, a small child ran into the centre, under one of the legs formed by the fork of the tree as it grew, now supporting one corner of the form which stands inverted. As she emerged she declared she could see through it, so i peeked in to look too. Sure enough, i could look through, and this was no accident, as it was a square cut hole, the humble gift of the artist who wanted the Occulus and us, to have light.

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