Friday, May 02, 2014

The tree with the lights out of it

"It's called 'Breach' and was installed in 2009. It's a pretty neat sculpture because--"

And there is as far as I could ever get. I couldn't finish the sentence, and this annoyed me endlessly because filling in the "because" of aesthetic appreciation is super fun. I remember a friend once asking, "Why do you always have to know exactly why you like something?" The coy answer would have been "Because I like to."

A couple weeks ago I found myself again reflecting on the significance of the sculpture, finding that my deepest reach into thought was inches away from the kernel I sought. When I brought it up a friend commented, "It's neat because in different seasons it means different things." After a few days of chewing on it, this turned out to be the thought I had been missing.

The sculpture of the tree is stagnant and lifeless. It is passive to the surrounding space. It is inorganic, and seen through the changing seasons it offers a mirror to the rest of the world around it. In its lifelessness, it calls into focus the splendor of the organic. In this way, it is a sculpture not of a tree but of all the other trees. In this metallic tree we see reality reflected that much more fully. The real, life-giving branches nearby gain more reality due to the juxtaposition of these metal ones. We don't need this metal tree to know the other trees are real, but without it maybe we notice them less. Maybe we care less. Maybe we miss one of those sweet moments of gasping at spring or the flush of fall.

So I arrived at my because, and while there may be more to unearth from this idea, I'm happy to have found the source for more reflection. There's also a great connection here with Saussure's ideas of the sign and stuff I haven't thought about since early grad school. Much more to chew on!

Since I'm on the subject, please enjoy this tree-awe from Annie Dillard: 
A big elm in a single season might make as many as six million leaves, wholly intricate, without budging an inch; I couldn't make one. A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes, it splits, sucks and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green, fringed fling. No person taps this free power; the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out even more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air.