Wood is a unique natural material. It is stable and at the same time fragile. You can use it to make it pragmatic or decorative. Both play a major role in cultural history, as people have been using wood for many centuries in many different areas. Among other things in the visual arts it was used. In the past, however, the tree received little attention as an art object. It is the raw material of wood and can also be used flexibly. Trees do not necessarily have to be staged in their natural environment and processed into a work of art.
Effect on us humans
Trees have a positive effect on people. It’s so easy to summarize the results from science. Studies have shown that hospital patients looking out at trees have less painkillers. In addition, they recover faster. Just the sight of nature is enough for this effect to unfold. It can be intensified when people feel trees with all their senses. That is why trees are ideal as an art object. If it is a tree that is staged in its natural environment, the viewer can be stimulated to interact. For him, the artwork becomes tangible. He can not only look at the wood, but also feel, smell and hear the rustle of the leaves. But that’s not all. Anyone who perceives the plant in its natural environment will also hear birds singing and see the interaction of flora and fauna. As the following examples show, artists turn to the subject in different ways. Only rarely do they stay in a natural space, in which they can fully exploit the aforementioned modes of action.
A perfect illusion
A special project was created by chance and has become an attraction in the meantime. It is a Nissan Micra, through which a tree evidently grew. Of course that’s not the case. Originally, the vehicle master Peter Schmitz had exploited the vehicle and cut it in half. He then reassembled and assembled the two halves of the car on a tree trunk. In order for the illusion of the tree that grows through the vehicle to be realistic, the artist has divided the roof into various segments whose shreds are directed upwards.
It looks as if it has burst through the pressure of the tree to the outside. Passing passers-by will be surprised to rub their eyes. After all, it is the perfect illusion that does not reveal at first glance what’s behind it. Since he has placed the vehicle at this point, it serves as a prominent reference to his dealership in Altenahr (Rhineland-Palatinate). The special is also the proximity to the legendary Nürburgring in the Eifel. Thus, the striking artwork often serves strangers as a waypoint. If you see the car, you can be sure that you are still on the right track to the racing track. Unlike other trees-integrated artworks, this project is designed to stay in this location for a long time. Meanwhile, the car has been around the tree trunk for more than ten years.
Work of transience
Art is not necessarily connected to aliveness. This is shown by still lifes in painting. The same applies to the visual arts, which makes trees their objects. Fabian Knecht proved this in 2018. He took on a dead tree. The year before, a sequoia had to be felled in Baden-Baden. There was nothing left of him but his stump. Knecht designed a white cube with which he sheathed the stump several meters in size. At the top he stood out of the box, on the four sides he was surrounded by him. Inside, the artwork was convincing with its simplicity. White walls and neon lights on the ceiling were the only decorative elements. Elsewhere in Baden-Baden, the structure was reversed. Here the log was not inside a building, but formed the outer shell into which people can go. Into the stump, a flight was made that was so large that people passed through it. The objects were part of the exhibition „Inside or Outside“.
Ai Weiwei showcases the dead wood
Also, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has taken in one of his artworks trees their liveliness. In his work „Tree“ he reduced two trees to the essentials, namely the wood. The artwork consists of two tree trunks from which the bark was peeled off. The viewer also searches for the leaves in vain. The trees sawed Ai Weiwei and reassembled together. In this installation, he did not care that the parts give a realistic and coherent picture. The gigantic roots are followed by a short trunk. At the top, the crown sticks out.
But she too was robbed of her fine branches. Only thick branches remain, which end dull. This work of art recalls the industrial processing of this natural material. As dead wood, it is versatile. Wood can be changed and modeled without much effort. The artwork is bolted so it can be erected anywhere like a piece of furniture. It takes on a different form that we can only identify with our cultural knowledge as the interior of a former tree.