Artist’s Residencies in the City

Urban Trees:
Joanna Whittle’s survey along the no. 38 bus route

Joanna Whittle’s residency involves counting every single tree growing along the no. 38 bus route between Clapton Pond and Piccadilly Circus. Since September, the artist has been walking the route, assiduously recording the number of each species she encounters, and plotting their locations on the map. Eventually, the data would be collated and displayed next to her botanical drawings, in an installation located along the bus route, or even on board buses.
The aim of the project is to invite bus passengers to meditate on the nature that is gliding past their windows unnoticed and unsung. In the artist’s own words:

’The project attempts to reveal how much nature there actually is in London… the enormity of nature available to us, planted for us. It will also highlight that during this time of ecological crisis, urban spaces do indeed provide a haven for nature. That there are swathes of London populated by wildlife, whereas huge swathes of agricultural land in East Anglia etc. are emptied of their wild species through farming practices.’

The idea of the project emerged from Whittle’s landscape paintings, which also deal with the interaction between the natural and the human. The residency project addresses similar concerns in relation to real space, on a more ambitious scale. The no. 38 bus happened to be the route Whittle best knew as a passenger. She liked the fact that it is a Route Master bus, with the open back, which offers more potential to interact with the terrain.

Whittle is at present about a quarter of her way through her survey. She describes her progress so far:
‘The residency so far has involved getting as many trees identified as possible before the leaves fall. Maps have been drawn and numbered showing the position of each tree. Drawings have been made. I have travelled from Clapton, through Hackney, Graham Road, Balls Pond Road…and on. I have counted over 500 trees. Within that there are 93 different species.’
The sheer number of trees has surprised her. It has also become apparent how tied to nature the project is: for some species, she will have to delay identification until the tree flowers or bears fruits.

Whittle is still open minded about the exact form the final presentation will take. Ideally, this would be in an installation along the bus route, rather than in a conventional exhibition space. Drawings and statistics could be shown inside and outside buildings along the route, or on bus shelters. Botanical data could be flashed on electronic notice boards at bus stops. More adventurously, the installation could board the bus. There could be images of trees on tickets, and stickers with botanical information on the backs of seats. Arboreal images could take over the advertising spaces, or be draped over the whole bus… The possibilities are endless.

Joanna Whittle was born in 1974. She studied at Central St Martins and the Royal College of Art. She has participated in a number of exhibitions, including a solo show at Agnew’s, London (2001). Her latest installation was Badly Led Lives in Piccadilly underground station (2002).


Tim Hyman     Artists Residencies





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