As you turn from the corridor of Somerset House’s West Wing into Room 12, you’re in for something of a surprise. It’s quite dark, for a start, with the only light emanating from the film of a tropical rainforest being projected on to a woodpile structure in the centre. Around it are stools created from cylindrical branches of wood on which you can sit and watch the film. And you’re enveloped by a soundtrack of the forest – the birds, insects and rainfall.
You’ve entered Brazil’s contribution to the 2018 London Design Biennale, Desmatamento (Deforestation), an installation by London-based Brazilian artist David Elia. The Biennale is devoted to the theme, Emotional States, and the surprise of walking from an office environment into a simulated jungle is just one of the emotions behind a work designed to reflect the vulnerability of the Amazon rainforest. In particular, he’s focusing on the Mata Atlantica, part of the rainforest that runs from the coast of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, to Paraguay. It hosts one of the densest and most abundant bio-diversities in the world, and one of the most threatened.
Brazil accounts for about 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest and 20 per cent of that has disappeared. Billions of trees are cut down each year to make room for agriculture and housing as well as for selling hardwoods. So, fear is another of the emotional states reflected here. The Amazon is, after all, the lungs of the planet and the resultant global warming is affecting us all.
The fear is referenced by the pile of wood which, coincidentally, reminded David Elia when he designed it as resembling the oca, the houses of the indigenous Amazon peoples. Elia also photographed the surface of a series of chairs he made and he used the pattern to create wallpaper that adorns the walls of the installation. It’s another symbol of the scale of deforestation.
The film is the work of the Brazil-based Hungarian director Tunde Albert and features the greens and reds of undergrowth, flora and fauna shot as the rain pours down. She filmed it in the Sao Paolo area close to the sea and it gives a somewhat soothing atmosphere in contrast to the harshness of the message of the bare wood.“I got attracted to this way of filming which is poetic and very relevant to the ecosystem,” says David Elia. “It’s an imaginary escape, like a portal into the forest.”
But Desmatamento is not all about doom and gloom. The wood pile and the stools are carefully crafted from eucalyptus trees which are the main source of reforestation in the Amazon region thanks to their fast-growing nature. Elia has also painted a kind of skirting board on the wallpaper in an ultramarine blue. The same goes for the base of the stools. This is the colour code that the forest wardens use to show which trees are to be saved from being felled.
So, wonder and hope are the other emotional states that make this installation appropriate for the Biennale. There is some grounds for optimism. The rate of deforestation has been slowed, at 16 per cent lower this year than last. “There are many, many associations, many people taking steps to ensure forests are regenerated,” says David Elia. “I saw one statistic that said by 2030, an area the size of England would be reforested in the Amazon, so it’s quite hopeful.”
The Brazilian government has also agreed to reduce its emission of greenhouse gases by 37 per cent lower than 2005 levels, but governments can be fickle.
In the meantime, Desmatamento offers a momentary oasis-space to contemplate the issue.
The London Design Biennale 2018 runs at London’s Somerset House until 23 September 2018.