Bewilderness: The Fear, The Love – Seeing the Forest and the Trees

  • Dendrophobia: the fear of trees
  • Nyctohylophilia: the love of dark wooded areas
  • Silvaphobia: the fear of cutting trees
  • Xylophilia: the love of wood objects
work by Hengeveld (L) and Perlis (R)
Work by Hengeveld (L) and Perlis (R)

Some of our deepest fears are ecological. As with other fears, humans often deny or resist becoming conscious of their ecological fears because they threaten the “self”. Moving into the darkness to confront our ecological fears may be a step on the path to sustainability. If it is true that our separation from nature is one of the contributors to our current state of un-sustainability then we must devise various and new means of annealing the rift. How do we not just get closer to nature but actually re-stitch human animal culture back into the larger fabric? Is it by considering all living entities as vital and

Art installation in Kingston, Ontario
Art installation Franken Forest in Kingston, Ontario

invaluable partners to work with as we secure our coincidental fates? What living entities are of merit? In our hierarchical world with its arrogant and lethargic attitude to the conferring of rights, how long will it take and how malleable is our capacity to recognize the value and necessity of both the “self” and “others”?. What is our greatest ecological fear? I think our biggest fear is that we’ve gone too far. That we are no longer able to control what we have created – the oil spills, forest fires, biodiversity loss, habitat loss, famine and suffering. The fearful thing we have created – the ecological crisis – is coming out of hiding and is beginning to read its book of revelations.

Birds respond to structure as much as tress sep
Roxy Paine in DC.

Recent work by landscape architects and artists is questioning the future of our planet, and our relationship to nature, using the tree as a focus. Do these works, as a group, suggest a “broadened” acknowledgment of what we might consider as “other”? Or are these works just further examples of our romantic and resourcist views of nature (see above)? Is each and every form of life some kind of barometer corresponding to a deeper ecological value or a meaning that we may not be able to sense or have yet to plumb? Is it appropriate for us to use simulacra to meet needs while displacing “originals” which might provide a broader suite ecological resources? What about

Birch by Dan Nuttall
Birch by Dan Nuttall

the social and cultural impacts of simulacra? Overall, the body of work expresses novel revelations that help diversify perceptions and create new connections within, across and between the political, economic, socio-cultural and ecological strands of our lives. Check out the fear and the love, and see both the trees and the forest, in the following works: • Claude Cormier, Landscape Architect – BLUE TREE, 2004, the surface of a denuded tree festooned with sky-blue Christmas balls, the whole acting as an environmental barometer; LIPSTICK FOREST, 1999-2002 bold use of color and form immerses passers-by in a hand-cast simulated forest in the Winter Garden of the Palais de Congres in Montreal, Quebec. Please see

Tree bark abstraction
Tree bark abstraction

http://www.claudecormier.com • Don Maynard, Artist – FRANKEN FOREST – at the Agnes Etherington Gallery at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, until August 8, 2010. Maynard asks us to examine the utility of simulacra in our lives while focusing, in part, on the tree. Please visit: http://www.don-maynard.com • Roxy Paine, Artist. Recent works such as ERRATIC, 2007, in Prospect Park, CONJOINED, 2007, in Madison Square Park, and MAELSTROM, 2009, on the roof of The Metropolitan Museum of Art – all in New York City – have underscored natural phenomena with “substitutes”, many of which are dendritic and made of stainless steel. Represented

Sketch from Bewilderness at Fieldwork
Sketch from Bewilderness at Fieldwork

by: http://www.jamescohan.com • Robert Hengeveld, Artist – FORGERY ISLAND, 2005 – Like Maynard, Hengeveld fakes us out to get real. Rich brown trees with pink felt linings make a sensuous foray into our consciousness and invite new forms of contact. You can see more work at: http://www.roberthengeveld.com • Juniper Perlis, Artist – Like Paine, Perlis goes hard to underscore things soft. A recent visit to SISTER TREE, 2008, in Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, New York, showed spring-time robins happily engaging with the welded steel and vinyl needled evergreen, underscoring the fact that all creatures can be attracted to simulacra if life history needs are being met. Fake is real if it meets a need. For more information on Perli’s work please visit: http://www.socratessculpturepark.org • Chico McMurtrie/Amorphic Robot Works – A TREE FOR ANABLE BASIN, 2007 – a floating island with a stainless steel tree that can be mobilized and inserted into the shoreline, this site-specific installation references the ongoing dialogue between ecological and industrial dimensions of the New York City waterfront. See: http://www.amorphicrobotworks.org

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.

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Bewilderness: Seeing the Light…Getting Death Right

I tend to create work and push it slowly into the darkness. Sometimes it is obliterated. The trick is to have it exist in both lights – accessible to all. Always close to salvation and tragedy.” Louise Bourgeois

flesh tree in apse of forest cathedral space
flesh tree in apse of forest cathedral space

Despite all my preparation, sketches and proposals I am only now just coming to terms with site context and the feasibility of my proposed work (see “Bewilderness” post below). There is much to consider including the logistics of implementing various ideas and the availability and cost of materials. There are other practical matters as well. How much can I lift? How far can I carry? Where is the electrical outlet in the plantation? How difficult will trail making be? How much time with the deer flies, black flies and mosquitoes can I stand? I decide that my first task is to understand where natural clearings occur in the plantation so that I can choose those that will best fit each installation. The natural light that occurs in each space will also affect what I do. I course back and forth through the plantation on my hands and knees, dragging fluorescent flagging tape with me as I go, in order to trace my path. I know that I want to stay away from the edge of the plantation, that I need to spot naturally occurring corridors of movement to reduce the amount of clearing I have to do, and that I need a loop to create a surreal dream sequence, with

Bewilderness - Spine tree
Bewilderness – Spine tree

installations fairly evenly spaced along the path. From some perspectives I can see how the trails of fluorescent tape relate to each other and to the clearings. Some of the clearings are elliptical while others are square and seem cathedral-like. I find a nave and apse in one clearing and one installation clicks into place. As I get a better idea of the plantation overall, I start connecting spaces and thinking about how sequence and progressive realization of installations will build narrative. At the same time I am finding that the use of local materials and resources integrates the rural and adds additional layers of meaning into my work. A number of cedar rails from split rail fences have been piled near the slopes of an abandoned gravel

Suspended flesh tree
Suspended flesh tree

pit; an old galvanized wash bucket sits behind the barn; wire mesh with pigeon feathers and excrement are sits as a soiled tense sheet atop scattered hay in an old animal stall. I begin integrating these found materials into my work. Knowing that I want to introduce trees and flesh into my project I take a series of color samples ranging from a bruised plum to bubble gum pink and tack them to a tree under what I feel could be average lighting conditions (see first blog entry below). By photographing these samples and examining them later I start to develop a color palette that I feel might work. Working with the colors of flesh can be challenging, though I have explored flesh in two-dimensional media before (see “The Meat of the Day”). I also have Louise Bourgeois’s quote, above, in mind. In the open, the colors I am working with look incongruous and bright – a carnival of pinks, red and blue. In the forest they look submerged. I think about how blood looks green/black when something bleeds deep in the ocean. The introduction of death in the installation acts as a harbinger for all of the trees; the absence of skin takes away any possibility of mediation or variable sensing; dismemberment expresses a nostalgia for the whole.

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness - floating tree
Bewilderness – floating tree