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Simone Brewster: Forest of cork oak trees

Head on over to The Strand in central London and you might just get lost in a forest of a different kind.

A group of totemic cork “trees” have sprouted here overnight.

Titled Spirit of Place, the life-size installation by artist-designer Simone Brewster in collaboration with Amorim was commissioned for the London Design Festival 2023 in an attempt to “capture the essence of the forest,” Brewster explains.

The five bold-hued tree sculptures are meant to represent a forest of cork oak trees at Herdade de Rio Frio in Portugal.

Brewster visited the forest, which is managed by Portuguese cork manufacturer Amorim, earlier this year and was immediately inspired.

“It was amazing, and so beautiful,” says Brewster. 

“I wanted to capture the essence of what’s going on in the forest.”

To do so, Brewster created the five 2.6-metre-high “trees” and painted each in the vibrant colours encountered on her trip.

Of course, the artist was also inspired by the sustainable way in which Amorim manages its cork forests. As such, Brewster used a cork composite to create the artwork – a material manufactured from stripped bark that’s steamed, chipped and then heated.

Not only is it a sustainable material but the stripping process itself also boosts the trees’ growth. 

And although slow (trees are only stripped every eight years), it is well worth it, as Brewster notes: “When you’re dealing with nature in a respectful and understanding way, you can’t push that [process], because you’re just going to end up damaging your resource”.

London Design Festival will run from 16–24 September.

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