Wimbledon artwork by Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey for HSBC. Ad agency: JWT London. Exec Creative director: Russell Ramsey. Creative director: Axel Chaldecott. Creatives: Mark Norcutt, Laurence Quinn, Phillip Meyler, Darren Keff
Following on from the blog post on Olafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls in New York, we have some more nature-based art for you, this time by UK artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey. They have created this artwork, their first piece to be used in a commercial context, for HSBC as part of the bank’s partnership with the 2008 Wimbledon Tennis Championships, which, in case you haven’t been paying attention, are currently taking place. JWT London is the agency behind the campaign.
The artists essentially use grass as a form of photographic paper, projecting a black-and-white negative image onto a patch of grass as it grows in a dark room, and using the natural photosensitive properties of the grass to reproduce photographs. As Wimbledon is the only remaining Grand Slam tennis tournament that takes place on grass, it was a natural fit for Ackroyd & Harvey’s work, which has also appeared on the National Theatre Lyttleton flytower and Dilston Grove in Bermondsey. For this work, they photographed three people at Wimbledon prior to the tournament, and displayed the resulting grass versions of the photos on three large panels in Merton Park, where the tennis fans have been camping and then queuing for tickets this year. The three people featured are: Tara Moore, competing in the qualifying tournament; Eddie Seaward, head groundsman at Wimbledon for the last 15 years; and Lizzie May, a coach for the Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative.
“When grass gets plenty of sunlight, it produces chlorophyll and therefore turns green – but the less light it receives, the more yellow the colour is,” explains JWT art director Mark Norcutt of the process used to make the work. “Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey discovered that by projecting a bright black-and-white negative image onto a patch of grass as it grows (in an otherwise dark room), they can use the natural photosensitive properties of the grass to reproduce photographs. From a distance it looks like any other monochrome photograph (albeit with a slightly unusual tint); up close, it looks like perfectly ordinary grass. But even individual blades sometimes have a range of hues, as any given cell can respond to the amount of light it receives.”
“Ackroyd and Harvey stumbled onto this technique after producing an installation that involved covering an indoor wall with living grass,” he continues. “A ladder was leaning against the wall, and the artists noticed that even after it was removed, a faint outline of the ladder remained on the grass. They set about experimenting with ways of enhancing this effect, and soon they were using a slide projector as an artificial light source for growing their unique photographs. A typical exposure time is just over a week, with the image projected for 12 hours a day.”
Part of what interests Ackroyd and Harvey about using grass is its ephemeral qualities, with the images they create often melting away soon after the grass is exposed to natural light and begins to grow. In galleries the artists have used light control to prolong the life of a work, but, before you rush to SW19 to see the HSBC piece for yourselves, this work lasted only as long as the Wimbledon crowds, and now that we have settled into the final stages of the competition has already pretty much disappeared.