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.

7 comments on “Art Installation or Litter?

  1. I’m sorry for the distress you’ve suffered Suze, it sucks big time to feel vandalized through your art.

    However, in my imagination I see the sequence of work gloves tied around a tree trunk, alien objects for sure; next, piled on the forest floor; next hung high in the tree; next, perhaps pinned on a line strung from tree to tree … Who knows, this may become an interesting photo essay, another matter all together. Your writing and the comments triggered thoughts, I’ve posted on my blog Hope Filled Jars.

    • Suze Woolf says:

      Thanks for your comments and ideas. I really love my imagined image of ropes of gloves strung from tree to tree, like a network of people who care for trees, though somehow I need to make sure it doesn’t look like laundry either. With your permission for your inspiration, I’d love to do this in its next incarnation.

      • Hi Suze, Sure, you’ve got my blessing, under one … (what’s the word?) take a moment to read my post (click on the link above) and perhaps you can leave me a comment as well. That way the flow of ideas continues across the Internet 🙂

  2. […] I went back to Tree Futures with a ladder to make sure everything was as it was supposed to be – unvandalized, not drooping, etc. Which it […]

  3. Tim Wahl says:


    Seeing the pile of gloves was very important for me. Rage it was, maybe, but a rage contained: a very orderly reordering, an affront recovery by someone of those woods, someone quite involved with the place. How interesting of them not to fling the gloves in broad berserkery to create something messy. Yup, cleaned that one up. Reminds me a bit of the people who leave bags of their dog’s shit by the side of the trail around here: ‘There, I cleaned that up’.

    Not that the veil of gloves was like dog shit. To the contrary, it was, obviously, a from-beyond helping set of many hands from dead pullers of invasive ivy, beckoning with the message, ‘You’ll rise beyond ivy someday’. Obviously. There was dangerous Amanita beauty in that veil too. But, what was it to the careful reassembler?

    A phone call from someone deeply offended by Grace, the stainless steel-formed yogi female form here on the Bellingham waterfront comes to mind. Grace appeared on the ‘Tin Rock’ off the over-water Taylor Dock promenade at the foot of Taylor Ave. (The ‘rock’ is actually a dense pile of thousands of tin sheets punched for salmon can members and dumped through the floor of a vanished can-making factory on vanished piles, passing as a nonhuman object to many.) My, my; someone had dared to place an interesting assembly of shiny material in a public place. All kinds of accusations and vitriol were in order. Grace is still there and it turned out the most outraged party was an aspiring artist objecting that another artist had ‘just put something up’, without any apparent public process. Damn that. (Most people loved Grace the second she appeared, BTW.)

    ‘Sudden discovery’, yes, probably sudden determination to undo too. The fringe of fingers may have appeared in the orderly person’s woods without any context or process, an apparent violation of both public order and wildness. The climber/dismemberer was probably the last sort of person to use a map published by others.

    Seriously, art in public places, especially the interesting more ephemeral and personally discoverable stuff, challenges what many of us think of as publicly redeeming. On another extreme, ‘sanctioned’ could be the problem. Public acts can elicit opposing public acts of public defiance.

    I recall, a bit shamefully, unexpectedly entering homeless people’s camps while traipsing the urban backlands for B’ham City Parks. I used to experience rage. I still have to catch myself feeling mean and nasty towards people messing around on the wilder commons, being people that is. I remember, years ago, taking pains to reorder their camp furniture and belongings in odd arrangements and leaving weird notes from an uncle extraterrestrial challenging them to shape up.

    Hard not to feel violated with this. Sorry about that.

    Okay, I’m possibly being extra nice to this person and I’m taking liberties with their very soul, yours and mine. But, the fingers were not cut off and there was no fire or chicken livers. Consider that the untier may have been carefully protecting something, even their idea of the forest itself.

    Looking forward to seeing a reinstall, even a re-deinstall if necessary.

    PS Check out the Ben Meadows catalogue for all the cool little camo-colored wildlife cams one could install in hidden places to record what happens to such installations…that would likely reveal we’re all a little off base in making sense of this. You’d have to mess with video too, but what fun, maybe.

    • Suze Woolf says:

      Thanks, Tim. I have been thinking a lot about the continuum from interaction to vandalism. I have been back several times since the reinstall and nothing seems amiss. I’m not as happy with the work higher up, less in reach. It’s harder to see — you really can’t tell what the wood chips are — and photographs are distorted, taken much more from below.

      Part of me celebrates the irreverence of guerilla art – o painter of Mondrian crosswalks — and I will have to come check out Grace.

  4. As a fellow artist and friend of Suze’s, I was disappointed to hear of the vandalism to her installation “Tree Futures” at Carkeek Park, but not hugely surprised. Seattle is known for vandalism to art placed in the public sector. Back in 2001 and 2007 I participated in the Pike Place Market’s Pigs on Parade sculpture installation throughout the streets Seattle.

    One pig got his eyes cut out with a pen knife, both pigs were damaged by violent whacking of a skateboard which shattered the expensive paint finish I had put on the pig.

    Seattle has a mixture of aggressibve tree huggers and street punks that are not educated about art and react to it as elitist nonsense. This justifies their violence in their minds. No matter how they justify it, it’s devastating to the artist to have their work literally beaten, disabled, or cut down.
    It’s and ugly act to destroy another’s art, thoughtless and selfish. As a city. we have ALOT of room for improvement on
    this issue.

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