Ackroyd & Harvey’s work has been exhibited in contemporary art galleries, museums and public spaces worldwide; sculpture, photography, architecture, ecology and biology are disciplines that intersect in their work, revealing an intrinsic bias towards process and event.
In their photographic work, the passage of time is evoked through a nature-based living material – seedling grass. Grown from seed on the vertical surface, in controlled lighting, the emergent blade has an extraordinary capacity to record either simple shadows or complex photographic images through the production of chlorophyll. In a sense, Ackroyd & Harvey have adapted the photographic art of producing pictures on sensitive film to the light sensitivity of chlorophyll and the equivalent tonal range of a black and white photograph is created within the grass in shades of yellow and green. The artists refer to this process as ‘photographic photosynthesis’.
Re-photographing an imprinted grass photosynthesis work, the artists have transcribed the image one to one scale into a black and white gelatin handprint. In 2014, Blaakow was displayed as part of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and received the Rose Award for Photography.
In 2012 Ackroyd & Harvey received the Wu Guanzhong Prize for Art & Innovation for Mother & Child, a work that was also the recipient of the L’Oreal Grand Prize for Art & Colour in 2000. They received the NESTA Pioneer award in 2000 and the Wellcome Sci-Art Award 1997 for research work with scientists from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (now IBERS.)
They are acclaimed for large-scale interventions in sites of architectural interest, focusing on political ecologies by highlighting the temporal nature of processes of growth and decay in the urban space – in 2013 they grew the stone façade of a disused former British military building in Derry, N. Ireland for the City of Culture; ten years earlier they grew the soaring vertical interior of a deconsecrated church in London and in 2007 created a monumental living intervention on the exterior of the Royal National Theatre. In 2011, they were awarded the prestigious Mapping the Park commission for London 2012, a series of living sculptures entitled History Trees at ten of the major entrances into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Interaction with scientists is often key to Ackroyd & Harvey’s practice, and currently they are developing a series of new artworks and initiatives for the University of Cambridge in response to research at the Department and Museum of Zoology, and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.
Beuys’ Acorns, an ongoing work growing two hundred oak trees from acorns collected from Joseph Beuys’s seminal 7000 Oaks will be exhibited in France throughout autumn 2015, culminating in a major artistic intervention in partnership with scientists at the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (Inra) to coincide with COP 21, the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.