Recycled chairs find a place in the trees

These recycled chairs, mounted on trees in a forest, show the circle of life. Designed as an art installation by American artist Tom Shields, they can be seen in the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Shields works with found furniture, particularly chairs. He started to use chairs because they are thrown out so often and thus are easily attainable. He sees them as reflections of our relationships, even having human names such as arms and legs.

As he explains:

I am not trying to re-invent the chair, make it more comfortable or establish a sleek new design for modern living. Instead, I hope to address the role that furniture plays in our lives and tweak that context as a means to investigate social connections. Tables speak inherently of support and community, cabinets are boxes for secrets and chairs are blatant representations of our selves.

© Tom Shields

Shields feels that we "live in a world inundated with a never-ending supply of new material possessions, many of which quickly end up in the trash." So he made a decision to only use found objects in his work.

© Tom Shields

He loves the history that you can see on an old chair: the cracks and scratches show the life that it has seen.

© Tom Shields

So why stick them on trees?

The show was part of a larger exhibition at the museum called 0 to 60: The Experience of Time through Contemporary Art. Shields' part was called "Forest for the Chairs" and consists of 32 straight-backed chairs mounted on trees in a small forest that is part of the museum. He used abandoned chairs found in a landfill, dismantled them in his studio, and refitted them with great care. And then he remounted them 40 feet high, in the trees. Thus returning them to their original source: the tree.

Shields has a sense of wit too, and wanted to surprise joggers and cyclists coming through this remote part of the forest. The placement of the chair parts is not random: he erected and took down a 40 foot scaffold every day to plot out their location.

Many of the rungs of the chairs appear to pass right through the tree so that it looks like the chairs are growing out of the trunks and branches. Eventually the tree will grow around the bits and encompass them so that they will become part of the actual growth. Needless to say, Shields consulted with an arborist before doing this project to ensure that he would not kill the trees.

It's a cycle of growth and decay and it's art. Not only that, eventually the chairs will rot and become part of the forest as they decay, thus completing the cycle.

© Tom Shields

First seen in designboom, Shields started as a cabinet maker and his first works involved chairs which he melded together.

Tags: Artists | Chairs | Forestry | Furniture | North Carolina