Stour Valley Art Project
There are half a million specially planted trees in Kings Wood, and about the same number again of self-seeded youngsters, which foresters regard as weeds. It is a working forest of sweet chestnut, beech, fir and pine, owned by the government, belonging to the nation, and looked after as a national resource by the Forestry Commission.
Working forest means that the trees are being grown for their timber and will be cut down, removed and sold in due course. The beeches, middle aged by human standards are only 50 years old and will probably not be felled before 2050. The chestnuts on the other hand are cut back to their stools, every 15 years. The place is like a cross between a very slow growing market garden and a factory after everyone has gone home, and it covers an area the size of Legoland (400 hectares, 1500 acres). A team of four foresters maintain the plant collection in good health and order, and makes the rides and trails through the forest safe and open for the public to use. The public are always welcome, provided they take nothing away from the land, to come and watch the trees growing. Seen in their hundreds, closely spaced and at regular heights, creating great bands of darkness, trees and tree trunks might look rather monotonous, especially in dull weather. But it is never boring because one is always rewarded by seeing the changes brought about by the seasons, the weather, animals, insects and now, in carefully chosen sites, by artists and craftspeople.
What kind of changes are artists making in Kings Wood? Do they affect trees or trails? Country people oppose change in the environment usually because they fear that the balance of Nature is threatened by over-use by newcomers. If there are too many parties entering this quiet wood, they may be tempted to leave the path and strike off into the heart of it, changing the place from a mysterious backdrop to a kind of open air leisure attraction. Think of the sculptures in the wood as invitations to break the pattern of walking; they affect you only in as much as a view, scent or sound in the woods can stop you in your tracks, focus attention, erase everyday concerns, enhance your observation and memory.
The stone carver Peter Randall-Page, who worked on Flowstone in 1979 at Tonbridge, believes that modern public sculpture draws an unlikely audience into thoughts about "the imponderables of life." What are they? Is he right?
Sculptures are not advertisements. Nobody says how great Art is, how much it costs and how it looks just right in the forest. You do not have to answer the invitation. But if you do, it is like coming across something in a book or music: you can "read" or "listen to" a selected small piece of landscape, composed by an artist in a medium that is actually the stuff of the woodland itself.