Another point of view on art or litter

Today 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 was.

This time I encountered a different neighbor who asked if it was my work. He had called the park department: he and his neighbors felt the art was fine but it should be where there was more man-made disturbance like down in the playfield. He said this “side trail” was “one of the last places like this left in Seattle” and it should remain wild . He said he liked the art work, but  thought it was in the wrong place and the uplands should not be part of the exhibit. He also felt it encouraged tagging, graffiti and vandalism. He clearly thought I had spray-painted the green arrows on the tree in the middle of the trail, which also has the corrugated cardboard wrap up higher. I said I had seen the Water Department marking the site which I found shocking. (When I was there measuring trees I had encountered two workers tracing the sewer lines. They had sprayed the tree, a part of the trail and two manhole covers now covered in seasonal vegetation.) I’m distressed that people might logically assume I was responsible.

I’m completely sympathetic to the argument that wild places should be left alone. I didn’t argue that Carkeek Park is not in fact pristine wilderness (having been logged, farmed, mined etc. in the past), but the feeling is completely understandable. This gives me new and uncomfortable feelings about my own choices — I went for the best grove of trees with the best branch clear-heights for the work, with the full knowledge that it’s a temporary installation.

I wonder how many neighbors have altered Andy Goldsworthy installations?

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3 comments on “Another point of view on art or litter

  1. I get the impression there was no sign on the trees about the installation. That’s a huge assumption on which the rest of this comment is based. If I’m wrong about that, please delete this. That would change everything. But if the only info about your art was at some other park location, hear me out…

    I think of the woods as a natural art gallery and a place I often go for visual R&R and inspiration (as an artist with a bad case of shiny object syndrome). The woods offer a sense of privacy and sanctuary for me which is why on weekends I stay far away from the state park I live next to.

    If I walked into my favorite part of the woods and saw what appeared to be an art installation, it would feel jarring and presumptive on someone’s part if I could not immediately read about it on the first tree I’m likely to come across. So that whole sanctuary thing runs pretty deep with me…

    I’m fine with the idea of a temporary installation, and love what yours is about, Suze, but in this case, I think the curator confused satisfying a “public” protocol, with maps or signs in some centralized location not on everyone’s route, with clearing the way for a richer personal experience for the individuals who may come upon it unexpectedly.

    Art is for individuals, not a faceless public, and best viewed with open minds. As an artist and marketer I have a better chance of winning hearts and minds if I put myself in my viewers’ hiking boots if I pick a sacred or private feeling public place to display within.

    Seeing the gloves left in one pile at the base of the tree tells me the perp had respect for the place and wanted to create his/her own message. I disagree with another commenter’s comparison of the vandal to those who leave baggies of dog doo along the trail. This vandal left a message that I’m not sure anyone else is hearing.

    That said, I’m very sorry it happened to you, and I learned a great lesson.

    • Suze Woolf says:

      They installed a sign before the reinstallation. It removes some of the sense of surprise, though I certainly felt better about reinstalling with it.

      But one thing that happens when you come upon art unexpectedly is that you begin seeing unmanipulated nature with new eyes. This happens to me in a new way now, despite my many years of deep involvement with wilderness.

      Another thing I have learned is that one man’s wilderness is another’s urban empty lot. The park isn’t wilderness to me — I can see all the evidence of logging, farming and even mining in the vicinity. It’s been heavily disturbed at various points in its 20th century history. But it substitutes for untrammeled nature if that’s what you’ve got.

  2. judy24 says:

    Suze I’m really appreciating your documentation of your thoughts and process. I find it very interesting how the neighbors claim the forest. Well I suppose it is why they live in the area. Yet it would be nice if they could open their minds as to the thought and inspiration of your piece. It is in line with his thinking in many ways.

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