Conflicted Seeds + Spirit

David Attenborough Building, Cambridge, 2016

March 2016

The University of Cambridge presents an exhibition of new works by Ackroyd & Harvey at the David Attenborough Building. The artists have been awarded a major public art commission in response to the refurbishment and redevelopment of the iconic brutalist building designed by Arup Associates in the 1960’s. This is the first showing of work by Ackroyd & Harvey in Cambridge and includes a mixed-media living artwork, a split screen film work, a large-scale wall text work and an existing sculptural work. Two large-scale exterior works composed of intensively layered-slate are currently being installed on the Corn Exchange entrance and the New Museum entrance to building.

Conflicted Seeds + Spirit 2016

Eight trees subject to global conservation programmes are the focus of a new work that acknowledges the heritage of the New Museums Site as the original Cambridge Botanic Garden from 1762 to 1846. Working with the extensive international network of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative partners and associates, seeds have been collected from six genera of the eight nominated trees. This has been dependent on relationships being created with a network of over twenty organisations working globally, to secure seed stock and research fieldwork into local ecologies and threatened species. A dedicated website shows the interconnection and complexity of stories that surround conservation on this scale.

With the support and expertise of Cambridge University Botanic Garden five saplings have been successfully nurtured with the remaining trees subject to ongoing international negotiations and permissions to secure seed.

The Museum of Zoology houses nearly 14 tons of specimens held in alcohol, the so-called ‘spirit collection’. The artists spent many weeks researching the catalogues to find specimens that had a connection with each tree species or biome where the tree grows.

Fifteen ‘spirits’ were selected and photographed. Creatures, many of who were collected at the turn of the 19th century and held in suspension, present compelling and arresting portraits at odds with the life force of the trees they once inhabited, alighted on, or scurried by. The Work juxtaposes and explores the preservation of the museum’s historical specimens with the growing dynamics of contemporary field conservation and protection of bio-diversity.

The legacy of this project will see one tree from each species being taken into permanent collection of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.


University of Cambridge, Cambridge Conservation Initiative, Museum of Zoology, Commission Projects, Cambridge University Botanic Garden, Cambridge Science Festival logos