Our installation, Forest without Leaves was specifically designed for the Victoria & Albert Museum in cooperation with the Iran Heritage Foundation. It was based on Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami's original concept, which focuses on his belief that we have lost the ability to look at nature in natural surroundings and that it is only when an item is 'framed' and then placed in an artificial or museum environment, that we observe it in detail.
For this extraordinary exhibit, the V&A provided half of its sculpture gallery adjacent to the main foyer. Various design concepts were explored in island configurations. However, they initially seemed to lack physical interaction, and finally we adopted a more inclusive approach - a forest of trees that the visitor could actually wander through, touch or even hug.
Due to the architecturally rich gallery space we concluded that a conflict would occur between the structure and the exhibit and that a more defined and sympathetic environment was required. Therefore we built an enclosure and clad its vertical surfaces with mirror to provide the illusion of an endless space. Eighty tubes, 5 metres in length provided carriers for the "tree bark" prints, each digitally merged from approximately 75 digital images. Without the possibility of a ceiling connection there was a need to resolve their stability given the tree's length and weight of 50kgs. We engineered a 150mm floor to test the support and topple forces and adopted this principle with a long sloped entrance. It developed into a modular travelling system, which has also been shown in Barcelona, Madrid and Paris.
Finally, in order to provide the illusion of clouds enveloping the treetops, we applied a translucent ceiling material that adequately obscured the architectural features yet allowed light to pass, depicting a winter's sky. This utilised the gallery's naturally shifting light conditions during the day, while at night tinted floodlights simulated a gathering storm.