Rooted – Julia Ellen Lancaster
1 April– 26 May 2023
Open Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm
The Borough of Poplar takes its name from the native trees (Populus canescens and Populus nigra) that once thrived on the moist alluvial soil beside the marshes. The Black Poplar is a very rare and exceptionally large tree that grows well in the wet conditions which the Thames and the Lea historically brought to much of the neighbourhood. Most have long gone, not surviving the changes of environment, development and human intervention.
Despite the demise of these poplars, the mycelium network that once connected them beneath the ground and through which they communicated remains.
In neighbouring Bethnal Green’s Meath Gardens there exists a veteran example of these Black Poplars, towering above all the other trees. It is several hundred years old and is one of the few remaining trees of its kind in the UK. This tree’s rarity, age and sentimental value led the local council’s Tree Officer, to describe it as one of ‘the most important veteran trees in Tower Hamlets’. It’s also highly valued by local residents because of its age, its rarity and the memories it holds for many members of the community, with families still gathering under its branches. The role of trees is more important than ever in terms of London’s air quality and the wider global environmental crisis.
The clay sculptures that form Lancaster’s series, Rooted, represent monuments to the Poplars that formerly breathed life into the area, both literally and figuratively. The work is made and re-made, being layered and assembled from clay and fragments. The pieces work together as signifiers of continuous change and adaptation, those of the Borough’s inhabitants, both human and in nature.
People throughout the Borough attempt to encourage and nurture their own miniature gardens, often reflecting the diverse character of their origins. Space is limited and some may only be a handful of plants struggling to sprout in a patch of meagre soil, but each resemble an attempt to create some kind of solace in a sometimes harsh existence, carving out territory they can call home.
Julia Ellen Lancaster uses clay, minerals and rocks, some spanning millions of years of the rock cycle, excavated from across the UK and fired to extreme heat to create sculptures investigating the relationships between the landscape and the human body, as connected and interchangeable. The sculptures are often connected to a geographical place and mark the capturing of time embedded in the earth, signalled by changing layers of colour.
Lancaster’s work can be seen to mimic or suggest scientific, geological and sociological histories and memories. Her interests remain in the haptic experience of materials and the innate qualities that emerge in the process of working with them.
Lancaster completed her MA at the Royal College of Art. She was awarded a residency and exhibited at Youkobo Arts Centre, Tokyo in 2018. In 2020 & again in 2021 she was selected for the Leach 100 Artist Centenary celebrations of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, making clay sculpture that responded to the Leach as a place of experimentation.Recent exhibitions include; Journey to the Centre of the Earth, m2 Gallery, Peckham 2022; Containers of Meaning, Jupiter Gallery, Newlyn 2022; Resettling, Anchor Studio & Newlyn Art Gallery 2021; Souvenir, Youkobo Art Space, Tokyo, 2021; The Listening Project, Folkestone Fringe as part of the Folkestone Biennial, 2021; Lost & Found, Poplar Union Arts Centre, 2021. Commissions include the Powell Cotton Museum, Birchington with work also held in private collections internationally.