When does a tree become a living, communal thing? It's an interesting question, considering that trees are already in a sense, living, communal organisms; but in the human sense of community, it's a question that Seattle-based environmental artist John Grade tries to answer with his recent work of a giant, one-to-one scale reconstruction of a 140-year-old Western Hemlock that took hundreds of volunteers almost a year to complete.
This Is Colossal, the huge sculpture began as a trip made by Grade, his team of assistants and arborists up a tree situated near the Snoqualmie river in the Cascade hills. At around 90 feet in the air, meticulous plaster casts were made of the tree and its branches, which were sectioned, labelled and transported back to the studio to be transformed.
Here's where the communal creation happened: hundreds of volunteers – some of whom just walked in off the street -- helped Grade and his team reconstruct the form of the old-growth tree from the casts, using tiny pieces of salvaged old-growth cedar and eco-friendly glue, rebuilding it piece by piece.
The sculpture was then sanded down to create a more homogenous surface.
The entirety of the tree's organic form, each little curve, deviation and contour are mapped out in this painstaking re-creation, using nature as a model and the handcraft of hundreds as a generator. While on display, "Middle Fork" will be hung horizontally so that one can look "up" and inside the tree's trunk, thus "allowing visitors to view a familiar organic form from new perspectives."
One may ask, what is the point of going to such great lengths to make this sculpture, but it's an attempt to tell the story of this tree, of looking at it in a different view. Not many of us may ever come in contact with a real, live Western Hemlock, and even less of us will ever get a chance to peer into its very center. "Middle Fork" is currently being exhibited at Seattle's MadArt Gallery until April 25, and afterward, Grade intends to take the sculpture on tour for two years, after which the pieces will be returned to the base of the original tree, where it will be allowed to decay naturally. More info over at John Grade's website and MadArt.