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Jenna Burchell

Lower Park
30 Sep 2017–31 Oct 2018

‘The beauty of a songsmith lies in its fluency between art, history, storytelling, modern society, technology and people’

Jenna Burchell

Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) is an experimental artwork that includes clippings from a 500-year-old yew tree that have been gold electroplated, and reattached to the tree.   

Burchell’s specially adapted technology enables the leaves to sing when touched. Their songs are made from memories. Over the centuries, a richness of experience and emotion has seeped into the grounds of the Bretton Estate. Songsmith (YSP) converts some of these memories by using an EEG2 device to record the brain waves of people who have been long connected to YSP. The resulting musical tones often share a fondness tipped with sorrow for what has come to pass and what cannot be found elsewhere.

Songsmith (YSP) acts as an interactive connection between the site, past and present. It is part of Burchell’s on-going international project, Songsmithconsisting of a series of sound instruments embedded into places and objects chosen for their age long histories and rich narratives. Songsmith explores how to re-connect people to each other and to the world around them by activating the exquisite cracks, places and objects that narrate the beauty of life lived. 


1. The Yew Tree is the oldest on the estate and its lifetime outspans humans and most other trees. Symbolically the yew tree is said to contain all the experiences, knowledge, and understanding of our ancestors. The perseverance associated with the yew is that of all life, which continues in the face of overwhelming odds and grows stronger because of it.
2. EEG (Electroencephalography) is an electrophysiological monitoring method to record electrical activity of the brain. During the recording, a sensor is attached to the scalp to pick up the electrical signals produced when brain cells send messages to each other.  We may consider the brain to be like orchestra, each emotion creating a frequency. Burchell created a software program to translate these signals into musical tones based on Christian Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806) wherein musical cords are associated with emotional states.
3. Songsmith (n.). In Burchell’s practice she has created the noun ‘songsmith’ to refer to a golden object embedded with a sound instrument. In creating a songsmith the artist follows a method based on the Japanese art and philosophy of Kintsukuroi (n.) (v.phr.), which translates as 'to repair with gold'. This is the art of repairing pottery with gold lacquer and sense that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken and showing it’s rich history.

Jenna Burchell is an award winning, anti-disciplinary, South African artist whose work often takes on the form of interactive sculptures and large-scale installations that bring art, technology and people together in meaningful ways. 

The artist believes it is through the connection of these elements that we can inspire the future of human experience. Her work explores themes of memory, land, home and belonging. Burchell’s process crosses multiple industries and involves communities, places and countries around the world. Her work has been seen at national and international exhibitions, fairs and institutions.

Burchell is represented by Sulgar-Buel Lovell Gallery in South Africa and the UK.