Art Installation or Litter?

Art or Garbarge?

Art or Garbage?

Followers know that earlier this week, and with the help of stalwart friends, I installed Tree Futures in Seattle’s Carkeek Park as part of Heaven and Earth IV: Rootbound. Imagine my distress when I returned with my family the next evening to discover it all cut down, in a pile at the bottom of one of the trees. Certainly in that position, it did look like refuse.

To be sure, during the installation period there was no signage announcing that these objects around the trees were sanctioned Art and not an elaborate form of illicit Tagging. One of the beauties of the exhibit is that both casual and purposeful walkers share a sense of sudden discovery (though there is a map on the Rootbound site).

Once I got over the initial shock, I realized I owed it to all of the friends, colleagues, non-profits and businesses who had donated time, money and encouragement to re-install. Most of the elements had been untied rather than destroyed — though the cords holding the gloves had been slashed into many pieces. It was hard not to read this as rage — the most severe critic I’ve yet encountered!

So 4 days after the original install, I was back — this time with my ever-patient spouse Steve, the exhibit curator David Francis, and fellow artist, sculptor Peppé. The weather was not so cooperative. Seattle’s rainy reputation is indeed based in reality. It was heartwarming and validating that during this rainy task, three neighbors came by and asked what had happened. One had even come back in the interim with his camera. They all expressed dismay at the vandalism, pleasure in the installation and support. So now Tree Futures is back where you will find it on the exhibit map, albeit a little higher up the trees. When the weather improves, I’ll get new photos of the re-installation posted, which includes two new wraps — a veneer collar (for all the trees used in construction and consumables) and blackberry canes (for the threat of invasive species).


My friend Pati helped me work through the experience: someone saw only garbage on “their” turf, presumably without contemplating the possibility that it was a sanctioned activity in a community space. This destruction is consistent with our all-too-human trait of acting without consideration of others or a realization of what we don’t understand. One neighbor declared it an act of ignorance. This particular work represented forests; it’s humans who destroy and protect forests.


Installing “Tree Futures”

Yesterday I was privileged to have the help of two friends to begin the outdoor installation of my work for CoCA’s Heaven and Earth IV: Rootbound.

It was a typical Seattle June day: dripping and cool. Several dog walkers and joggers wanted to know what we were doing, but seemed quite happy with  our answer: “It’s an art project — and the artist is behind the tree.”

Ooops, popped a grommet

Ooops, popped a grommet

First Tier of Gloves

First Tier of Gloves

Wrapping grass

Material manipulation

Here is my site:

Tree Futures site

Tree Futures site

It’s strange for this artist to be working so hard on a project which will not result in a painting. Tree Futures, the outdoor installation described in my previous post, is more like working on software development than painting a picture. Who will do what when, what has to happen first, what supplies, how many hands needed and most of all, making the design flexible enough to accommodate last-minute changes.

I’ve been fortunate in getting help with materials and fabrication:

Here are the beginnings of some of the assemblies:

The first layer of wood chips in biodegradable bags

The first layer of wood chips in biodegradable bags

All 6 layers of the kraft paper wrap

All 6 layers of the kraft paper wrap

The first layer of used work gloves

The first layer of used work gloves

Corrugated Cardboard Wrap

The first layer of single-face corrugated cardboard wrap.

New direction or new branch from the same trunk?

The experience, earlier this year, of wrapping large paintings around live trees was so personally and artistically exciting that I applied to the Center on Contemporary Art’s annual Heaven and Earth outdoor exhibit. I was very surprised, since I have almost no cred as an installation artist, to be accepted. Here is my proposal sketch:

Proposal sketch, Tree Futures

Sketch for “Tree Futures” proposal

I plan to wrap trees with a variety of materials that suggest what trees could become:

  • wood chips, for trees used in landscaping
  • invasive species, one of the many threats to biodiversity
  • wood veneer, to stand for all the lumber used in construction, furniture etc.
  • kraft paper, corrugated cardboard, for the wood used in paper products of all kinds
  • fire-scarring, for those trees lost to humans and other species through fire. (I’m having a 6′ x 30″ banner made from a section of Burned at the Base for this)
  • artificial grass, for all the forest lost to agriculture and development
  • layers of workgloves, to commend all the volunteers who protect and care for trees and forests

One colleague noted that it was a new direction for me. While I grant it’s a new kind of medium — public art, exterior installation, sculptural — it’s such a direct outgrowth of all my burned forest paintings that it feels both strange — no permanent artifact — and completely familiar.