November 9 - December 10, 2023
Opening Reception: Thursday, November 9, 5 – 6:30 p.m.
Arboreal Artists' Talk: Thursday, Nov. 9 at 5:30
Arborlogues: A Botanical Recital for One Tree: Nov. 17 and 18, 10:30 - 4:30
Sign-up for a specific time using link at bottom of this page.
The Schick Gallery presents Arboreal, an interdisciplinary exhibition considering trees and the environment, with art by David Paul Bayles (photographs), Katie DeGroot (painting), Tamara Kostianovsky (sculpture), Mia Mulvey (sculpture and photo-collage), Erika Osborne, (drawing), Kingsley Parker (painting and sculpture), and Jean Shin (sculpture.) Skidmore Environmental Sciences faculty Kris Covey and Kurt Smemo, and GIS Center Director Charlie Bettigole will share research tools and technology used to understand forest ecosystems.
It began simply enough, with seeing art that I found engaging and noting a common element – trees. Then there were thoughts about trees – these large organisms that powerfully shape our environment, about which most of us know less than we imagine. They’re ubiquitous, yet we often pay as much attention to them as we might to a sidewalk or a streetlight. I decided to pay more attention to art about trees.
Jean Shin is one of the artists whose work first struck me. Her piece S.O.S. recalls the forgotten history of leather production in the Catskills; hemlock bark was used to tan leather, and the industry decimated hemlock forests in that region. Using post-consumer leather and branches from a fallen hemlock at the Olana State Historical Site, she made a sculpture that seems to offer a gesture of recognition and protection.
Kingsley Parker’s images develop from observations of specific trees, and from an understanding of their significance in defining the character of a landscape.
Shin’s work emphasizes analytical and ceremonial approaches, while respect and empathy characterize Parker’s work; both recognize the impact of humans on trees.
I realized the exhibition I wanted would need to consider human interpretation, interference, and reverence…as well as the trees themselves.
Other works engendered bleaker thoughts about the environment…. The rawness of Oregon artist David Paul Bayles’s photographs of a working forest – an ‘efficient industrial landscape’ planted for harvest which many of us never have seen – stopped me in my tracks.
Mia Mulvey’s work addresses a clonal aspen, Pando, that spans 106 acres and is considered
the largest, most dense land organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds. Though
its root system is probably 80,000 years old, scientists are concerned about Pando
because it’s showing signs of decline.
So, because of where we are in 2023, Arboreal also became an exhibit about climate change, and landscapes we’ve lost. The goal was not to lecture – rather, to stimulate ruminations and questions - and perhaps to allow trees to be more present in our awareness, both literally and as symbols of our connection to the natural world.
In curating Arboreal, I’ve mostly been delighted and curious, thus mitigating some
climate angst. There’s the enchantment I felt upon seeing Tamara Kostianovsky’s fiber sculptures - equal parts tree and human, yet wholly true to each. The buoyant attitude I saw in Katie DeGroot’s work - paintings of dead branches covered in fungi. The endurance and care I felt in Erika Osborne’s Ponderosa Pine drawing, created on site over twelve hours. The awe of discovering the root system drawings by Professors Erwin Lichtenegger and Lore Kutschera, perfect fusions of art and science.
Working with Kurt Smemo and Kris Covey, Environmental Studies and Sciences faculty, has expanded my understanding of how research on trees is conducted. In the gallery are two maps of the same forest made a mere forty years apart, but utterly different in form. The older version, from the University of Washington, is a nine-foot-long diagrammatic paper map, a product of hours of observation on site; the new, interactive i-Pad version was created in 2023 by Skidmore GIS Center Director Charlie Bettigole using LiDAR – light detection and ranging. The first map involved many person-hours tromping through the woods, and is finite in scope; the newer one can be scaled up infinitely, and was created at a computer. Something gained and something lost, it seems.
Also on loan from Environmental Studies and Sciences, the Eosense Gas Flux Chamber and Los Gatos Greenhouse Gas Analyzer; these precisely evaluate how plants use the air around them, demonstrating on a micro scale how trees benefit our atmosphere on the macro.
Further inviting us to engage with trees, Arborlogues is a botanical recital performed for a single tree by Dan Daly and Lee LeBreton. It places one tree and one human as equivalent organisms sharing a physical space. It is full of thoughtfulness, humor, and grace. …all the things we might wish to convey to trees, if we could.
Rebecca Shepard, Vurator, Schick Gallery Director
Arborlogues will be presented in 15-minute slots on November 17 and 18. The performance site is outside, behind the Saisselin Art Building. Visit the gallery
first - you’ll be directed from there. To participate, please select a time slot
using this link.