Biography

Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey (b. 1959/1959 England) are internationally acclaimed for creating works that intersect art, activism, architecture, biology, ecology and history.  Referencing memory and time, nature and culture, urban political ecologies, the climate emergency and degradation of the living planet, their time-based practice reveals an intrinsic bias towards process and event.  Processes of germination, growth and decay (organic and inorganic) feature in artworks that often evolve through extended research in response to people and place, interfacing their profound interest in local ecologies and global planetary concerns.

They give high profile keynotes and public presentations and contribute writings and photographs to books and journals.  In 2019, the artists co-founded Culture Declares Emergency in response to the climate and ecological emergency.

Beuys’ Acorns is an open-ended research project initiated in 2007 when the artists germinated hundreds of acorns collected from Joseph Beuys’s seminal artwork “7000 Oaks”. Today, they have over 150 surviving young trees. Drawing on the agency of ideas integral to the provenance of the seeds, the trees have acted as both artwork and catalyst for a public research process carried out in galleries, museums, botanic gardens, sites of special interest and exhibition spaces across the UK and France.  The initial research phase focused on Beuys’ statement that the world, towns and cities should become ‘forest-like’, and culminated in a six city road tour across France in 2015.  This formed the inspiration to a large-scale intervention, Radical Action Reaction, premiering early December 2015 at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris during the United Nations Conference of All Parties on Climate Change, COP21.  Between 2016-2018 the artists were involved in a direct activist phase to seek ecological/social justice to protect threatened rural landscapes in England from fossil fuel exploitation resulting in a win to protect Leith Hill, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty close to their studio home in Surrey, from fracking.  They are currently exploring regenerative plant-based culture through a critical understanding of the latest emerging science that sheds new light on trees and plants and how photosynthesis is the true economy of the living planet.  Their research also reveals the necessity of large-scale protection of primary rainforest and other undamaged ecosystems in parallel with restoration of local ecologies as a way to regenerate our sickening planet, and revalue our relationship with Nature.

In their multi-award winning photographic work, blades of seedling grass provide a highly light-sensitive surface that the artists use to create a unique form of photography, imprinting complex images in the living material through the controlled production of chlorophyll. They have received the Royal Academy Rose Award, Wu Guanzhong Prize for Art & Innovation, L’Oreal Art and Science of Colour Grand Prize, NESTA Pioneer Award, Wellcome Trust Sci-Art Award, and exhibited worldwide including the Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas; WOMADelaide, Australia; Le Centquatre-Paris, France; Festival Images, Switzerland; Hangar Bicocca, Milan, Italy; Void, Derry, N. Ireland; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA; Mostra SESC des Artes, Brazil; Chicago Public Arts Program, USA; Rice Gallery, Houston, USA.

Equally renowned for their monumental architectural interventions, Ackroyd & Harvey act upon iconic or heritage buildings with living plant material, intercepting perceptions of place and landscape. The growing vertical wall can be seen as a dislocated fragment of nature in the urban space: a gravity-defying artefact of the natural where the first shoots of living blades point to the potential of place to be renewed. Commissions include the ARoS Triennial, Aarhus Art Museum, Denmark; Royal National Theatre, London; Dilston Grove, London, UK; 9th Sculpture Quadrennial, Riga, Latvia; Wellington Festival of Arts, New Zealand; Theaterhaus Gessneralle, Zurich, Switzerland.

They have been recipients of prestigious public art awards including a commission for the inauguration of the David Attenborough Building in Cambridge 2016, whereby they realized a series of new works to work with the Museum of Zoology, Department of Zoology and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. In 2015 they completed History Trees, a major public art commission for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, where a series of individual sculptures comprising semi-mature trees holding six meter diameter engraved rings mark ten of the major entrances into the park.

Public exchanges, keynotes, conversations and live open-ended research are integral to their approach and practice, and Ackroyd & Harvey give many high-profile keynote lectures and presentations, notably Declaring Emergency: Museums and the Climate Crisis, Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Big Botany, Spencer Museum, Kansas; How to be a COPtomist, Kings College, London; On Energy, Banff Centre, Canada; Environmental Funders Network, Cambridge, UK; COCE/Conference on Communication and Environment,University of Colorada, Boulder; ‘Nobel Laureate Symposium’ on Creativity, Leadership and Climate Change at London’s Science Museum; ‘Art + Alchemy’Trinity College, Cambridge; EARTH: Art of  a Changing World, Royal Academy of Arts, London; Smith School, Oxford; London School of Economics, UK; the Royal Society, London; Royal Institute of British Architects, London; Tate Britain, London; Royal National Theatre, London; Manchester International Festival, UK; Courtauld Institute, London; Harvard University, Boston, USA; San Francisco Institute of Arts, USA; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA.

Further Information

Find details of selected exhibitions, lectures, awards, commissions, research, residencies, prizes, media and more in the CV.
Link to Full CV