gallery fumi max lamb london design festival designboom
gallery FUMI presents ‘my grandfather’s tree’ by max lamb at london design festival




on the occasion of the 2015 london design festival, gallery FUMI presents a special installation by max lamb at the somerset house. ‘my grandfather’s tree’ brings to light a large ash tree that overlooked monckton walk farmthe property of lamb’s grandfather in yorkshire — that stood as a symbol of the london-based designer’s childhood. he spent most of his summer and winter holidays at the farm helping his grandfather with different duties and general maintenance jobs where the tree would stand tall, over them. one of these jobs turned out to be a four-year long adventure in which an 80 year old farmer, lamb, one bricklayer and one farm labourer worked together to convert a disused cattle shed into a two-bedroom cottage for his grandfather. the position of this dwelling was next to the tree, overlooking the 200 acres of agricultural land.

gallery fumi max lamb london design festival designboomthe large ash tree that stood next to cottage of max lamb’s grandfather




of course, as nature took its course, the ash tree began to express age, and its largest branch died and started to rot. for the safety of lamb’s grandfather and the cottage, it became crucial that the great ash tree be felled. for lamb, it was important that his grandfather’s tree existed beyond its rooted life, and offer a celebration of the inherent potential of the material within. he consulted his friend john turnbull — a tree surgeon, master with a rope and chainsaw, and three times european tree climbing champion. turnbull told lamb that the typical afterlife of a cut down tree was quite unfortunate. that disposal and transportation is very expensive, and at the end, most are cut into logs, stacked into a pile, then burnt when they are dry enough. while not becoming entirely useless, the process sees a great feat of nature, and its beautiful lumber, face a sad ending to a once vibrant, flourishing life.

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a view of the monckton walk farm




lamb asked himself exactly how one could best utilize an entire ash tree. he wanted to find a result which would see very little being done to each section of the tree so that the essence of its physicality remained relatively intact. ‘when you see a perfectly square cut piece of wood in a sawmill, builder’s merchant or used for tables and chairs across the world, the age of the tree can no longer be read,’ max lamb says. ‘the history of the tree has disappeared, along with the true value of its material. the beauty of the wood grain might remain, but it is not just a piece of wood and not a piece of tree. the wood has lost its origin.’

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john turnbull carefully fells the great ash tree




with this in mind, lamb quickly came to a conclusion to what he would do. ‘I wanted the tree to remain integral to the wood,’ he continues. ‘together with my friend john turnbull, we dissected the tree from the top downwards, cutting it into sections at regular intervals, respecting natural divisions within the structure such as knots, branches and crotches. I wanted to process each piece of the tree as little as possible, other than to make the top and base level in order to give function to the material. I cut the sections into logs of average ‘furniture’ height suitable for use as stools, tables and chairs. each log becomes a surface for what my grandfather would call ‘general purpose’ use. divided into 130 logs laid out in order of diameter, with the 187 annual growth rings clearly visible, the ash tree continues to exist as an ash tree, but with a new life, a new function and the start of a new history,’ he concluded.
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the ash tree that stood on the property now in sections




the 2015 london design festival will be the first occasion in which ‘my grandfather’s tree’ is being presented to the public. designboom spoke with gallery FUMI about their collaboration with max lab, and what they wanted to evoke with this exhibition.



designboom: you’ve represented max lamb for a while now. how did the collaboration between gallery FUMI and max lamb come about specifically for this project – ‘my grandfather’s tree’?


gallery FUMI: FUMI has represented max lamb since the very first days of the gallery in the 2008 when he was a recent graduate of the RCA. it was around this time that max started the process of cutting down his grandfather’s tree and it has always been a topic of conversation between max and the gallery directors sam and valerio. always pegged as a potential exhibition, but with the need to find the perfect space and occasion, it is only now that max and the gallery have decided the tree is well seasoned and it’s the perfect occasion to show the installation at somerset house.

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max lamb’s grandfather surveying the tree in its various segments




DB: in a project of this particular scope, how important is process in relation to the final form?


GF: the story here is key, max’s decision to work with this particular tree and embrace the nature of the material, and the form of the tree, decides the processes that are necessary to the transformation. the final form of the exhibition encompasses the story and the processes used highlight max’s initial intention and the stages that the project has come through.




DB: what are some of the particular themes that are being addressed with ‘my grandfather’s tree’?


GF: a respect for the material is key to this project. the intention to guard an important history is also relevant whist max has used the opportunity to extend and explore the options for new histories and narratives. there is also the sentimental and personal aspects relating the tree to max and his grandfather.

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a diagram indicating the cuts of the tree




DB: what do you hope to evoke with this installation? can you explain how the pieces will be exhibited?


GF: we don’t want to give too much away but as i have said the tree’s story will be told through the way the final pieces are exhibited. the viewer will be left to make their own conclusions but the intention of the project and love for the material will no doubt shine through.




DB: after the presentation at the london design festival, will the tree remain ‘intact’ and travel as a whole, or become available as individual segments?


GF: this is yet to be confirmed but the entire installation will be numbered and each element intended to remain available to come together to be exhibited in the future.