South African artist Daniel Popper debuted his first major exhibition in the United States—and his largest ever—at The Morton Arboretum in Illinois. Human+Nature is a sprawling exhibition that sees five large-scale sculptures by Popper invading the 1,700-acre arboretum. Ranging anywhere from 15 to 26 feet tall, the sculptures “inspire awe as they connect people and trees.”
Popper, who is known for his incredible public art installations, did not hold back when it came to taking influence from the environment. The nature-inspired sculptures speak to the Arboretum's mission, which is to connect visitors with trees. Made from glass-reinforced concrete, wood, fiberglass, and steel, each sculpture is monumental yet strikes a strong emotional chord.
For instance, UMI is a maternal figure gently cradling her bump. In fact, the title UMI is derived from an Arabic word meaning “mother” or “my mother.” The 20.5-foot-tall figure is seemingly made from intertwined branches and appears to be caught in an intimate moment pondering her impending motherhood.
Heartwood is another tour de force. Here, a woman's face is split into two pieces as leaves fluttering across her body. People are encouraged to pass through the middle, where one side shows a human fingerprint and the other side a tree's heartwood. The heartwood of a tree includes its oldest annual growth rings. Collectively, the sculpture shows the interconnectedness between people and trees.
“Each sculpture has a story behind it, but I like to leave the questions about each piece a little bit open, so people can come and bring their own ideas to it,” Popper said. “I want people to come here and ask questions of themselves about their relationship with nature.”
He described working at The Morton Arboretum as a privilege. “As an artist, I’ve always been interested in trees,” he explained. “We need to really acknowledge the importance of trees and what they give the planet, and how much more we can give to trees.”
Human+Nature is scheduled to run for at least a year, so there's plenty of time to visit. The exhibition is included with regular, timed admission tickets to The Morton Arboretum, which is located in Lisle, Illinois.