Letters into leaves – Bath Spa’s response to nation’s memorial project.


A collaborative artwork has been created by Bath Spa University in response to the national WWI commemoration project ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier’.

OAK is a seven metre high digital artwork that provides a powerful representation of the total contribution from the thousands of people who have written letters for ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier’ http://www.1418now.org.uk/letter/

Co-creator of ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier’ and Bath Spa Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media, Kate Pullinger teamed up with Bath Spa colleagues Anthony Head, Neil Glen and Tim Vyner to create the stunning typographic and visual artwork. bath spa

OAK takes the form of a 200 year old wintering oak tree, its bare branches symbolising strength and endurance. Every minute, a new letter, written by a member of the public is displayed below the roots of OAK.

It is at this point that the words from the letter are transformed onto the tree, into growing word-leaves. A minute later a new letter arrives, adding more word-leaves and growing leaves where words have been reused.

The word-leaves become larger and older, until they reach a point where they have turned from a spring green to an autumnal brown and fall to the ground, forming abstract sentences before re-forming as new shoots, to grow again.

This process will continue every two minutes of every day continually growing and evolving, representing the mass of sentiment and feeling stirred by the thoughts and opinions of the many thousands of contributors.

L. to R. Anthony Head and Neil Glen.
L. to R.  Designer and technologist Neil Glen and Digital artist and Senior Lecturer in Digital Technologies Design Anthony Head and  in front of the giant medial wall


Digital artist and Senior Lecturer in Digital Technologies Design Anthony Head was responsible for the computer coding of OAK, taking letters directly from the ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier’ website and analysing them for word frequency. The coding then displays the words in a natural formation on the boughs of a water-colour of an oak tree at Bath Spa University’s Newton Park campus, painted by illustrator and Senior Lecturer in Illustration Tim Vyner.

Designer and technologist Neil Glen designed the text layout of the work making reference to memorial walls in which the names of those honoured are listed as a series of columns, creating a visual mass which upon close inspection reveals the details of those being remembered. The text of each letter is laid out in a single column, moving to the right every minute to reveal a new letter.

This unique scalable artwork is currently on display on the University’s 30 screen, seven metre high Media Wall in the new academic building ‘Commons’ at Newton Park. The artwork is free to view and all are welcome. OAK is also being broadcast live via webcam between 7:00am and 3:00am daily at http://artdesign.bathspa.ac.uk/mediawall/

A short video of the artwork’s collaborators discussing their respective contributions to OAK can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeFOJNB2oQo.

Letter to an Unknown Soldier is a new kind of war memorial that invites the public to write a letter to a soldier. Not just any soldier, but the soldier who inspired the famous Charles Jagger war memorial on Platform One of Paddington Station in London.Oak_1 Bath Spa

Over 4,700 letters have been received having been submitted from schools, groups and individuals, by writers including Stephen Fry, Andrew Motion, Sheila Hancock, Andy McNab, Lee Child, Lesley Pearce and Malorie Blackman, and by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid.

The project was created by Professor Kate Pullinger and Novelist and Theatre Director, Neil Bartlett. It was commissioned by 14-18 NOW, as part of the official cultural programme for the First World War centenary commemorations.

Letters are being published on the website now and until the anniversary of the declaration of war on 4 August. Everyone can contribute their letter before 11:00pm on 4 August by submitting it to the website http://www.1418NOW.org.uk/letter or posting it to LETTER TO AN UNKNOWN SOLDIER, PO Box 73102, London EC1P 1TY.

The artwork is being display on the portrait shaped digital Media Wall which is part of the recently built Commons Building at Bath Spa University’s Newton Park Campus. The Media Wall is an exciting digital portal heralding a new era of possibility for research into digitally mediated artworks both within and beyond the University.

It was developed as an experiential learning, teaching and research space, supporting intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary projects involving staff, researchers and students. Keep up to date with the latest Media Wall projects by following @MediaWallBSU