Beuys’ Acorns

Tate Modern 4 May - 14 Nov 2021

Tate Modern, 4th May – 14th November 2021

‘Nearly forty years after Beuys planted the first tree of his 7000 Oaks, in the centenary year of his birth, we find it both timely and moving to display 100 of our Beuys’ Acorns oak trees at Tate Modern. We feel a strong sense of protection towards these young trees in a time of enormous planetary instability, when destruction of the worlds’ forests increased sharply last year. Beuys called for the world to become a big forest: Beuys’ Acorns declares a climate and ecological emergency and calls for a revolution of love in our relationship with Nature.’ @ackroydandharvey

“Love is the most creative and matter-transforming power. […] In this relationship I start with the simple looking activity, but it is a most powerful activity; it is planting trees.”  Joseph Beuys 1982, Energy Plan For The Western Man.

Beuys’ Acorns was first initiated by Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey in 2007.  Its latest display marks 100 years since the birth of Joseph Beuys (1921-86), the hugely influential artist and environmental activist. Beuys’ Acorns is a living sculpture where visitors can reconnect with art after lockdown, rethink their relationship to nature, and reflect on art, activism and the climate emergency.

The project was originally inspired by 7000 Oaks – City Forestation Instead of City Administration, a seminal work created by Joseph Beuys in Kassel, Germany. Between 1982 and 1987, Beuys and his helpers planted a forest of 7000 oak trees alongside 7000 basalt rocks, permanently altering the local cityscape and connecting art to the emerging environmental movement. Local residents were encouraged to reclaim agency over their urban environment by helping to choose sites and plant trees.

In 2007, Ackroyd & Harvey travelled to Kassel and collected acorns from Beuys’ original oaks to nurture into new trees. 100 of the saplings grown from these acorns have been brought together to spend the summer on Tate Modern’s South Terrace, free for visitors to enjoy from 4 May to 14 November 2021.

Joseph Beuys’ major work from Tate’s collection, The End of the Twentieth Century 1983-5, has been installed in the Tanks directly underneath the terrace on which the young trees are located. This installation is made from large pieces of basalt stone which derive from the same rocks as those he installed in Kassel. For six months, the two key elements of Beuys’s original 7000 Oaks project are therefore reunited in London, one above ground and one below.

Beuys believed that art could be used as a force for social change and saw 7000 Oaks as ‘only a symbolic beginning’. He hoped it would encourage people to plant more trees and wanted to raise ecological awareness, aid mental wellbeing and improve the environment. 7000 Oaks has since inspired many tree planting projects around the world and, as part of Beuys’ legacy and a continuation of his work, seven of the oak saplings will be permanently planted in the local area around Tate Modern next year.

Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern said: ‘Ahead of welcoming visitors back inside Tate Modern, we’re thrilled to be unveiling this important and timely outdoor installation addressing the urgent need for global climate action. Alongside our ongoing work to make Tate a more sustainable organisation, we also want to give a platform to artists like Ackroyd & Harvey and Joseph Beuys who inspire wider public conversations and spark positive change in us all.’

In addition to the installation, Beuys’ Acorns includes an ongoing research project and public engagement programme into the cultural, biological and climatic significance of trees.

Ackroyd & Harvey are co-founders of Culture Declares Emergency, which launched in April 2019. The movement aims to create strategic plans for individuals and organisations – including Tate – to help sustain the planet.

Link to Flythrough film of Beuys’ Acorns  with thanks to Joel de Mowbray and Yes Make

From Turbine Hall to Thames: Ackroyd & Harvey’s enormous grass banner pleads for our planet’s future by Louisa Buck, The Arts Newspaper 1st July 2021 – link to feature

The Cultural Frontline, BBC Sounds : Chi Chi Izundu finds out how issues of water scarcity, water sanitation and climate change are inspiring artists and musicians. Ben Okri talks about how a living work of art will make us think about climate change – link to feature