Immersive Art Installation Features 10,000 Tree Species Dating Back Millions of Years

Video screen capture. Katie Paterson and Zeller & Moye, video BBC Arts via Vimeo

We may not realize it, but trees are our partners in the evolution of human history. They are the silent witnesses, like the famous and still-living bodhi tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment; or the 390-year-old tree that survived the bombing of Hiroshima. Trees deserve a special place in the annals of this planet, and a new immersive installation by artist Katie Paterson and architects Zeller & Moye attempts to chart this immense chronology by featuring slivers of over 10,000 species of trees from all over the world, and from different junctures of history.

Hollow, in 'What do Artist's Do All Day?' from Katie Paterson on Vimeo.

Paterson describes the breadth of the installation, whose cavernous interior contains samples of both young and old trees, which hang down like tendrils, reaching out to visitors:

[There are] fossils of unfathomable age, and fantastical trees such as Cedar of Lebanon, the Phoenix Palm, and the Methuselah tree, thought to be one of the oldest trees in the World at 4,847 years of age, as well as a railroad tie taken from the Panama Canal Railway, which claimed the lives of between 5,000 to 10,000 workers over its 50 year construction, and wood is salvaged from the remnants of the iconic Atlantic City boardwalk devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

According to My Modern Met, the installation, titled "Hollow", took over three years to finish and is located in University of Bristol's Royal Fort Garden, commemorating the opening of the university's new life sciences building.
"Hollow" is conceived of as a meditative space, a miniature stand of trees populated with a myriad of silent stories covering millions of years, from petrified wood fossils to more recent and emergent tree species. This hollowed interior has light filtering in through a kind of abstracted forest canopy from above, illuminating the profound compression of time in one space.

Clip from 'What Do Artist's Do All Day? Katie Paterson' BBC Four from Katie Paterson on Vimeo.

Produced with the help of Situations, a public arts organization, the installation also dovetails into an online archive called Treebank, where users can tell their personal tree stories. So while we may not be aware of it, our relationships with our arboreal partners -- and indeed, the whole of the natural world -- crucially shapes the way our experiences unfold on this planet -- past, present and future. A good reason to plant more trees, if there ever was one!