by Avantika ShankarMar 01, 2021
In Granary Square, London, Sam Jacob Studio has completed its latest installation, The Electric Nemeton. The word ‘nemeton’, which has Celtic roots, has been considered a sacred grove in Celtic history for a long time. The word has been juxtaposed next to its modern electric rendition in the studio’s latest design. The installation draws from the tradition of putting up Christmas trees for the festive season and the design blends with the tradition to continue with the studio’s progressive take on it.
The installation is a collection of different sized pyramids, which are meant to emulate the coniferous tops of traditional Christmas trees. The pyramids are held at height of four meters above the ground using columns of galvanised steel. It is both, an architectural tree and a spaceframe. The ease of the sculpture is such that it allows for movement underneath itself, creating a space and stage to interact in the socially distanced reality of today’s times.
The clean lines and simplicity of the structure give it a sense of abstraction while the play on colours and lighting lend themselves to a magical effect, taking the installation into the realms of a fairy tale. The stretched coloured net panels form the canopy, wrapped around the skeleton of every tree-top pyramid made of timber joists.
Keeping material in focus and how it amplifies the effects of the installation, the Sam Jacob Studio says, “These simple materials - scaffold net, timber joists, galvanised steel - expose the construction process while their layering creates something more magical. As you move around, the structure is sometimes more see through, sometimes more solid. Its colours fade and bleed from one to another”.
The structure serves a point of wonder and merriment to the people standing underneath and around it. The studio comments, “As a big, elevated structurally expressive roof, it creates a space for things to happen underneath. Borrowing from the great engineered sheds of Kings Cross and St Pancras stations nearby, the big roof is a social gesture”. Since the installation plays into the traditions of Christmas trees, the ‘trees’ of the structure, while they are a kind of architecture themselves, appear just as forest-like as intended. The lighting plays a huge role in giving the natural hue to the structure, and the bursts of orange and red lend it a festive touch.
Right from the installation’s title, ‘Electric Nemeton’, the studio’s interest in traditional celebrations and symbols of Christmas is apparent. Discussing the history behind the thought process of making a structure like this, the studio informs, “The Electric Nemeton is also a take on the traditions of merging architecture and nature around the winter solstice - from the palm leaves used in ancient Egypt and by Romans as Saturnalia decorations to the druidic use of mistletoe and fir trees we bring into our homes”.
More importantly, the installation serves almost like an exploration activity of its own, giving the people a new space to be in, for the outdoors. The amount of space the installation covers and the fact it is an open-ended concept for people to use as they please, gives a much needed ray of hope in the pandemic stricken world of today. The studio expresses the need for such symbols and says, “Like all winter tree traditions whose symbolism is intended to ward off the darkness and act as a gesture of hope for the return of the sun, the Electric Nemeton also expresses an idea of hope for the return of our social and public lives”.
The installation has been commissioned by King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership and Sam Jacob Studio collaborated with AKTII for the engineering, DHA Designs for the lighting design, and Jamps Studio for the fabrication of the structure.
(Text by Shreeparna Chatterjee, editorial trainee at stirworld.com)