A Memorial to the Midsummer Oak*
(Street Intervention, 2016) pvc, steel wire, photographs, wood
This was a guerrilla intervention I constructed, with lots of friends pitching in, in Milton Keynes, exploring commercial planning practises in my town. It was a memorial to The Midummer Oak*, a tree that was protected, but which died after a shopping centre was built around it.
The piece was erected in an underpass without permission, not done under the umbrella of any arts organization, and lived for only 2 hours, although it took many months to make – in that sense it represents the apotheosis of my practise at the time: much time and work for something immense that changes space, but is agonizingly ephemeral.
People got lost in a sacred forest of memories: plastic garlands in an underpass, each imbued with tiny pictures of people’s happy memories in Milton Keynes, as well as images of Milton Keynes itself in days gone by, and the life and times of the tragic Midsummer Oak. After you wove your way to the centre of the sacred forest, there hung a tiny chunk of the Oak itself, martyred, to be touched like a saint’s relic. (Full text below)
Fake Plastic Trees lived for 2 hours on the evening of Tuesday July 12th, 2016. Musicians and poets contributed to what turned out to be an incredible event. People got lost in my forest of memories; children wove in and out. Several hundred people attended the event, and I was overwhelmed by the moved responses of the public.
The piece comprised a forest of plastic garlands in an underpass, each imbued with pictures of people’s happy memories in Milton Keynes, which they donated, as well as images of Milton Keynes itself in days gone by, and the life and times of the tragic Midsummer Oak*. In the centre, like a saint’s relic, hung a tiny chunk of the Oak itself.
Milton Keynes is a special place. Built with beautiful ideals, and designed with thought, care, heart, and intellect. It’s a place to feel strongly about. This piece celebrates Milton Keynes and what makes it. A place comprises people and environment. I feel that somehow the memories that are created in a place become woven into the fabric of that place. They become the roots we put down. I wanted to create a piece where people could get lost in a magical forest of Milton Keynes memories. I wanted this to be in an underpass, as they are classic and beautiful examples of Milton Keynes infrastructure. Also, I find them to be places of almost mystical significance – sunken below ground-level, where ways cross. I love the beauty of modern materials like concrete, and wanted to mirror this with the beauty of my PVC trees; in contrast, say, to the fake grass which now occupies the former place of the Midsummer Oak.
As well as celebrating Milton Keynes, this piece also comments on how the beautiful architectural ideals of a city for living in have been betrayed by successive councils and planning departments. Nothing typifies that more than the building of the new shopping centre, right across Midsummer Boulevard**, and around the beloved ancient Oak, which long pre-dated the city. I think the death of this magnificent tree, and its replacement with fake grass, represents a kind of betrayal of Milton Keynes. For me, the Oak itself has become the martyr and saint of Milton Keynes (May She Rest In Peace). The wood chunk is all that has been salvaged from her, and it lies, like a medieval saint’s relic, in the centre of this beautiful plastic mausoleam.
* The Midsummer Oak was an ancient Oak in the centre of Milton Keynes, which long pre-dated the modern city. It began to die in 2005 after a shopping centre was built around it, and was finally declared dead in 2016.
** Midsummer Boulevard was built such that the sun shone down its 2 km length on Midsummer’s Day. This effect was destroyed after a second shopping centre, unsympathetic to the architecture of the city, was built.