For most town and city dwellers, it’s hard to see wild forests or jungles as anything other than a place to be very careful as to where you put your foot or place your hand as you walk! There are places where insects and creatures live that can bite you and make you either very ill or kill you, and then possibly eat you afterwards! However, where there is fear and dread, Ephemeral Forest Artist Spencer Byles sees a canvas. For over 12 years Spencer has worked in many WILD forests, mostly in France where he lived before coming to Kuching. “The forest is my living studio space and my gallery, a place that offers me much in the way of inspiration and a wealth of materials to work with.” he says.
Spencer has much experience of travelling and working in ‘wild’ forests’ in many European countries. “I lived in France with my family and would travel to different places for short periods of time to make my sculptures, sometimes for weeks or months. But my base was in the South of France, in a village called La Colle Sur Loup.”
His first taste of working in the East was a commission in Japan. It was a unique opportunity for him because he felt that the Japanese people had a special connection to nature. He wasn’t wrong. “The experience was very special, it was just wonderful to witness a little of their culture and see such a huge variety of insects, birds and mammals in their super healthy forests.”
Spencer is very well known for his year-long project in France called appropriately ‘A Year in a French Forest’. He utilised only natural materials, and occasionally a few found objects, to create amazing works of art, amid the living landscapes. This body of work was never officially publicised but strangely, by the time he had completed the project it had brought in a huge audience of both visitors to the location and an even much bigger audience on social network.
The photographs of his work are always taken by photographers, often friends. “I am happy to let that part of what I do to others. They are the experts who have their own vision of my work. My work is already finished. They bring a fresh approach, a new dimension.” He feels they understand how his work seems to blend seamlessly with the environment. There is no map or itinerary to find these surreal works of art. Your only means of finding any of these pieces in person is to discover them by chance or meeting someone who has visited them already. “Word of mouth is my only publicity.” Spencer says.
Spencer’s year long projects give him the opportunity to investigate the changes that happen in a seasonal cycle. His work is temporary, and over time the forest will recapture the structures and his physical imprint on his surroundings will be lost.
“I would love to create ‘A Year in a Malaysian Forest’, he says excitedly, but Spencer has already experienced the Malaysian weather, and perhaps that might be just too adventurous.
When asked about the isolation of working alone for long periods, Spencer said he prefered to work alone.
“When I’m in a forest, it’s as though I meet the real me! It’s an enormously powerful experience. So I protect it by never compromising my way of working in nature’s wild forests.
I am also a very sociable person and feel relaxed around people, even complete strangers. People here in Kuching so far have been very friendly. I have a very good feeling about this city and its people. The next couple of years here will be very exciting for me and my family.”