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The Invisible City: Treehouse Pavilions in Regent’s Park
The Invisible City: Treehouse Pavilions in Regent’s Park

The Invisible City: Treehouse Pavilions in Regent’s Park

19 February 2014 Anita Mistry

We caught up with artists Claudia Moseley and Edward Shuster about their upcoming project The Invisible City...

In 2009 Claudia Moseley and Edward Shuster were on the team behind the Treehouse Gallery in Regent’s Park; they created treehouses with a group of volunteers as platforms for public use. Now they are back with their new project The Invisible City, patroned by Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter. This project is all about bringing people together and harnessing the power of the collective to create a public platform within nature. And you can be a part of it! We chatted to Claudia and Ed in the midst of their Kickstarter campaign…

London Calling: Tell us more about The Invisible City.

Claudia & Edward: We met up a tree on a protest site in the Brecon Beacons in Wales, where people lived in natural self-built dwellings. The experience reinforced our belief in the positive power of the natural environment to affect us socially. We were so fascinated by this experience that we travelled across the country looking at the art and architecture that results from these spaces. We found these amazing structures that people had built into the landscape that were able to invisibly blend into the surrounding environment. We also found sites that had really enhanced the nature of a place.

On returning to London we wanted to recreate this kind of tree dwelling site in the centre of Regents Park. It was an insane idea and with the help of progressive Park Manager, Nick Biddle, we were granted permission to build two giant treehouses with a team of volunteers in the park and host events in them for 6 weeks. The results were pretty staggering to us. Once these structures were built, we hosted 195 events from people and groups including the RIBA and Theodore Zeldin, music and dance performances, and lots of debate and tomfoolery! What was amazing to us was how a community of people grew very quickly over the time the project was in the park, and it identified that there was a need for this kind of space, a bit of an intervention into the nature of the city, re-mapping the territory between nature and culture and allowing space for cross-collaboration of ideas and creativity. Since then, we have been working with the park’s wildlife team and some of the architects and engineers behind the Eden Project to design a set of pavilions that reflect what we learnt from that project and incorporate more interactive elements

LC: And what were your thoughts behind the name ‘Invisible City’?

C&E: The name is inspired by Calvino’s book - Invisible Cities, where Marco Polo describes 55 different cities to the emperor Kublai Khan, and in doing so, points to the diversity of cities that occupy our imaginations. But each of these different cities is really one, a singularity composed of vast diversity. With The Invisible City we wanted to show that one singular space in London is really about the vast invisible network of ideas and imaginations that it is comprised of. We want to celebrate this diversity but also show that the idea of the city is somehow a product of the imagination, so that people can be empowered as participants in its composition.

LC: Which London based organisations are you hoping to get on board?

C&E: Well, there are so many! …to give you an idea, this week we are speaking to the Roundhouse, Ideas Tap, the White Cube Gallery, the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, Future Cities, TEDx, Heritage Arts Company, WWF, folks at the GLA and people from Punch Drunk… But really it’s not just about these organisations, it’s also about individuals and what they can inspire and create. We were recently presented with a list of “One Hundred Things to do Up a Tree or Hanging From One” by the BioDiplomat Iain Orr, which we loved so much that we made him an honorary ‘Ambassador of the Invisible City’. We want people to become a part of this project, whether they are established or not and make it their own, it’s a chance for established organisations and renowned artists to stand alongside individuals, members of the public and emerging talent.

LC: How did you get into treehouses?!

Claudia: For me it started when I went to visit a friend of mine who was living on a tree-dwelling protest site in Brighton. I had been a low-key activist up until that point, but I loved the concept of protesting by a way of living. That way of living was completely imbedded in nature – immersing yourself in the thing you’re trying to save. I visited a few sites and the first time I stayed in a treehouse I stayed up all night writing by candlelight to friends and family – I felt a connection to myself through a proximity to nature that I had never experienced before. When I arrived in Wales the others on the site taught me how to climb and make my own treehouse to reside in. That process was totally magical for me – hanging from a tree all day and working with it, into it, with a view across the Brecon Beacons… It’s unparalleled!

Edward: I was lucky to grow up with a woodland on my doorstep. That is where I would go to think, hang out and spend time in trees. Meeting Claudia at the protest site was the next level - we realised that treehouses could be used as spaces with a much wider social application. As we developed our thinking, these stopped feeling like treehouses to us and much more like an extension of the environment, a kind of sculptural form that erupts from the environment to accommodate social space.

LC: Why have you decided to fund the project through Kickstarter? What do you think are the advantages?

C&E: We have spent many years working on this project and trying to figure out the best way to finance it. The intention is to create a communal, shared space, so it is important that people feel a part of it from the start. The crowdfunding platform allows a community of people to make it happen, not just by contributing donations, but by contributing ideas that will come to life in the project. Through kickstarter we are able to offer people the opportunity to do something in the space, whether it’s an individual who wants to perform a song, a circus troupe that want to swing from the trees, or if someone wants to sponsor a charity using the platform to communicate their mission. At the end, if the campaign is successful, we will be curating the content together, really mixing it up and weaving it together to encourage dynamic cross-collaborations. In this way, we hope that the campaign will help to generate a “social organism as a work of art”, after Joseph Beuys.

LC: The treehouses are really beautiful and unique, almost organic looking. What inspired the design of the pavilions?

C&E: We spent a lot of time looking into how nature inspires people to become more open to ideas, more inspired and more perceptive. To us, this is crucial to the success of the project and the interactions people have there, so we focused on creating spaces that are totally immersed in natural surroundings, drawing on theories of biophilia to create forms that would enhance our interaction.

LC: What kinds of materials will you be using to build the pavilions?

C&E: The sculptural shapes of the pavilions will be formed from lazer cut timber to create the ‘ribs’ (or frame) of the pavilions and they will be covered in ETFE, which is the same material that was used for the Eden Project biomes.

LC: Some may imagine as you two are East London based artists, Victoria Park may have been a more obvious choice of location. Why did you choose Regent’s Park?

C&E: We chose Regents Park because it’s central London location attracts such a diverse audience. We love Hackney and are developing some projects for the area, but we feel that by situating ourselves in the centre of London we are at more of an axis point in the city - at it’s heart. The park manager has also been incredibly supportive of the project and they have been very progressive in taking on our ideas and supporting the work.

LC:  Lastly, if you were to put on an event or activity in the treehouses, what would you choose? Or who would you choose to perform/ talk there?

C&E: Wow, there are so many things! We have been really excited about the possibility of aerial arboreal performance since the beginning of the project; performers swinging from the trees would be wonderful! We are also really inspired by the different debates that spring up around the project, about cities, nature and public space.

Be part of the Invisible City and help fund the project! Find out more on the Invisible City Kickstarter page

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