Among the Trees at the Hayward Gallery

A is for Atmospheric: I love trees, me. Trees are life, to use yoof vernacular (but also obviously quite literally). And while they might sound like a fairly random choice of subject for a major art exhibition, Among the Trees sounded pretty promising. I wasn’t however, expecting to come away feeling like I’d just done a massive Sunday walk. The kind that lasts for hours, where you let yourself be completely swallowed by nature. The kind that sorts you out for weeks. But I did. Because somehow, the cavernous halls that make up the Hayward Gallery have been transformed – not into an actual wood, although that would be great too, but into a space that instils the same sense of tranquility, despite being entirely made of concrete.

B is for Big: So how does a gallery filled with artistic depictions of forests make you feel as though you’re actually standing in a forest? Well, the sheer scale of the Hayward has definitely helped, with two huge expanses of wall taken up by big-screen films – including a pine tree so tall it had to be shot in six sections and turned on its side. Eva Jospin’s Forêt installation might be wall-mounted and made entirely of cardboard, but its Narnia-like magic offers the impression that you could climb right inside. And then there’s the large-scale sculptural works, from Ugo Rondinone’s monumental white cast of a 2,000-year-old olive tree to Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Plastic Tree B, whose canopy of placky-bag blossom is weirdly beautiful even if its message is rather less pretty. Oddly though, it’s the smaller canvases and photographs that really transport you.

C is for Children’s trail: Is it child-friendly though? Well, those who are familiar with the Hayward will probably remember a time when they weren’t so great on the small-child front. Thankfully they seem to have sorted it out in the last few months and are really making up for lost time, with special children’s activity packs for every exhibition as well as a generic sheet reassuring kids that they don’t have to be quiet, or to ‘get it’, but encouraging them to ask questions and find different ways to think about the things they’re looking at. The Among the Trees sheet was filled with things to find and lots of great prompts to get kids excited about art. Babu spent ages lying on the gallery floor sketching and the staff were absolutely brilliant about coming over and chatting to her about all the different pieces, which was incredibly refreshing.

Tickets: £13.50 per adult with donation; free for under-12s.

Verdict: I think this one will stay with us all for a while. 4.5/5

Until 17th May 2020

Mummy, Babu & Roro lose themselves in Eva Jospin’s Forêt.