Beth Derbyshire, Wheatley Fellow at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, is the artist behind The Rootless Forest (2012). When fully constructed, The Rootless Forest will weigh 15 tonnes, with 100 trees up to 3 metres tall planted along its 16 metre length.
During the journey the boat will broadcast a soundscape, crafted by Beth Derbyshire and Dr. Tara McAllister-Viel, consisting of verbatim stories from people affected by the current Afghan conflict, including UK military personnel who have served overseas and Afghans who have settled in Birmingham as a result of war in their homeland. As The Rootless Forest moves slowly along the water, its continual motion poetically echoes these accounts of displacement and relocation.
The Rootless Forest reflects upon the upheaval experienced by communities, individuals and landscapes in times of conflict. Inspired by the moving forest of Birnham Wood in Shakespeare's Macbeth, the trees are a motif for both camouflage and combat, a habitat for multiple voices and a transitional space between past and future. In 2011, 70,000 trees were planted in Afghanistan by American troops working alongside Afghan communities.
The Rootless Forest bears reference to Birmingham's rich history as a military city. As a centre of industry the city was heavily bombed during WWII; the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Selly Oak is now home to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, the main receiving unit for all military patients injured overseas. Birmingham is considered to have the largest population of Afghan people outside of London, many of whom have been displaced by war.
Audiences encountering The Rootless Forest from the towpaths of Birmingham will see an arc of young trees set against the backdrop of the historic industrial waterways. The trees - all native to the UK, including alder and birch - will be re-planted in Walsall Arboretum once the project is complete, becoming a lasting monument to those affected by conflict.
Beth Derbyshire, lead artist of The Rootless Forest, said: “The Rootless Forest is a living sculpture which moves at walking pace along the canals. Although it will be a spectacle in its own right, it is also an artistic act of remembrance for those affected by conflict. As the UK is due to withdraw from Afghanistan imminently, I see it as a memento of hope for the British public and newcomers to Britain.”
The Rootless Forest is supported by Arts Council England, Birmingham City University, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, The Canal & River Trust, Centre for Fine Art Research, Ikon, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall Council and The Wheatley Bequest Fund.
Other partners include Afghan Action, Birmingham City Council, Brush Strokes, Canal Boats Birmingham, Edible Eastside, sampad South Asian arts, The British Legion, Tree Design and Action Group.
For more information and full schedule please visit www.therootlessforest.com