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Ingela Ihrman, First Came the Landscape (2023)
Ingela Ihrman’s First Came the Landscape in situ at the Eden Project in CornwallPhotography Pal Studios

Ingela Ihrman’s natural sculpture reflects on eternity and mortality

First Came the Landscape is made from a fallen tree and set in the majestic landscape of the Eden Project

“It’s quite a burden to be human; to have all these thoughts, doubts and ideas,” reflects Ingela Ihrman, the Swedish artist behind First Came the Landscape, a large-scale site-specific sculpture located on the grounds of the Eden Project in Cornwall. “But when I’m in front of this [artwork], I’m just really present in the experience of looking, feeling, and touching. It’s a social thing, in a way, because I'm glad to be reminded that I belong to something larger and I don’t feel lonely.”

The vast sculpture is made from a single beech tree brought down by Storm Eunice in 2022. Ihrman, who is known for creating tender artworks which commune with nature and help us reestablish a tangible sense of our place within the ecosystem, has arranged the fallen tree in the form of a human skeleton, using the trunk and branches as the torso and limbs. 

“It’s a tree that fell down during a storm in winter, that grew a couple of minutes’ drive away from the site,” Ihrman tells Dazed in a conversation over Zoom. “My gesture is to take something that was already there and arrange it in a different way that creates some kind of meaning. It's also a way to comment on contemporary art and how we deal with limited resources. It makes the most of what’s already there while bringing it back to where it came from, so it has this circular quality.”

Lying in state amid Eden’s lush grounds, the sculpture invites visitors to reflect on the life cycle and the recurring process of birth, death, and re-birth as one material state gives way to another. In this sense, First Came the Landscape is a naturally-evolving work of art which will change with the passage of time, remaining in situ as it gradually decomposes and returns to the ground. 

“I’m glad to be reminded that I belong to something larger and I don’t feel lonely” – Ingela Ihrman

While the work appears simple, it confronts some of the hardest truths we have to face as livings beings. “It’s also about endings and how to deal with them,” the artist explains. “I’ve been young most of my life, and the fact that life is ending, I didn’t, I haven’t got it… but now I’m starting to realise that, once my parents will die, one day I will also. That's just something that is quite hard to grasp, but really in my face all the time. I think that’s why it was meaningful to me to do this quite playful human skeleton.”

The title gestures to the sense that we, as humans, are only a tiny component of something much larger that was here before us and will continue after we have gone. “First Came the Landscape – that’s true, right? Before we were here, the landscape has always been here. There’s something else that kind of keeps on going with or without me, and that’s comforting. It’s just surrendering to transcendence and the idea that there are endings and there are beginnings, and there always will be. It’s not like heaven, but if I were Christian, maybe I would believe in eternity in that way.”

The work is intrinsically linked to its surroundings. “I don’t think it could be indoors. It’s so crucial for the work to be on the soil it belongs to. It’s part of a landscape. It's an invitation to think, to experience, and ask questions.”

The Eden Project itself plays a vital role in the work. “I think the fun thing about Eden in comparison to art institutions and galleries is that it is a broad audience and not everyone will encounter it as if it was a work of art. I hope that people will approach it in a very direct way and feel curious rather than trying to asses, ‘Or Is this good or bad?’” 

While it’s connected primarily with ecology in the public imagination, art has been part of the Eden Project’s manifesto right from its inception. The work coincides with the visual arts exhibition, Super Natural, currently running in Eden’s Core Gallery, featuring other pieces by Ihrman alongside international artists including Ai Weiwei. As opposed to more conventional galleries, Eden has a wider scope and potential to allow for more interesting interactions. “The Eden Project tries to open like connect in different ways,” she says. “I hope that First Came the Land is attractive and that people want to engage with it. I hope for people to encounter it in various ways.”

First Came the Land by Ingela Ihrman is on display now at the Eden Project, Cornwall.

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