Neo Earth WorksIssue: Section:
“trees comforted me, their decisions always looked good, unlike my paintings.”
Trees are one of the few things most people like. Unlike the healthcare debates, we just ambiently enjoy their presence. Both a Buddhist symbol for enlightenment and shade on a hot sunny day, trees are part of our collective unconscious, be they imaginary, like the tree in Avatar, or primordial, like the trunk our children’s great ancestors climbed down from.
Last spring, I became interested in growing trees. The interest probably developed from the desire to get a street tree in front of our building on North 12th Street in Williamsburg. Five years and numerous e-mails to the city later, I remained determined as Bloomberg’s million trees became visible. “We could be one of that million.” When the city tree was finally planted, Kiska decided they were going to erect the first luxury hotel with fusion restaurant and rooftop bar right next to us. The threat formed a special bond between me and this Pin Oak. At one point I threatened a cement mixing trucker who was grinding all the branches off the tree.
He asked me what I was going to do with the hammer I was holding. I told him, “Break your mirrors.” “Then I would have to break your head,” he replied.Funny to put heads and mirrors on a similar level. “Yeah,” I responded, “but I have the hammer.” He detected a look in my eye and wisely backed off. Later I called the Parks Department after the tree was badly smashed by a red plumber’s van. They came out but since I had taped the bark back in place, they determined no damage.
As a young person I became interested in bonsais. Living out in the deep woods of northeastern Connecticut there were no lack of specimens. I bought a few books on the subject and started taking clippings of the most common plant used in this ancient art form, the Juniper, and got some rooting hormone. I also dug up trees, including a small white pine. This was put in a simple wood box. Twenty years later, when I went back to sell the house, the tree was 20 ft. tall, with remains of box and all.
Last spring I transplanted a 4-foot sugar maple that was encroaching on my in- law’s new house. The whitetail deer kept it 4 feet tall. This March I erected a yellow burlap barricade. While visiting them in Maine, some sprouted red oaks and maples were dug up and taken to Block Island, planted there with a sycamore. I could not keep my eyes off trees. Looking at trees is a form of meditation. After 25 years of making art, which involves some critical development of one form or other, I thought it would be nice to kick back and let nature make the decisions. Looking at the varied trees comforted me; their decisions always looked good, unlike my paintings. So began my mission. In the fall, I collected about 75 white, red, and pin acorns, and lots of sycamore seeds from McCarran Park in Brooklyn. Pin and red oak acorns need to winter. That is, they need two or three months at refrigerator temperature of 40-50 degrees in a plastic zip lock bag with some water. White oaks start to germinate immediately, but are the slowest to grow above ground. Some of my Italian chestnuts from the Park Slope Food Coop began to sprout. These would become the first of the green that would consume my studio. I started composting in a discarded Ikea dresser and purchased 2,000 red worms. They didn’t produce the amount of dirt needed so I started to work with Northside Brooklyn composting. In March, all the acorns had finally awakened and seeds sprouted. An invitation I sent out to an Internet Surf club, Spirit Surfers, to come perform for my trees was answered. The web, music, computers, amps, mixers, mics, wires, and spirit melded in live performance. The trees grew faster. In this micro-earthwork one element that seldom goes explored in art is smell. My studio now has the odor of the deep woods, a mini-ecosystem with homemade fresh air.