Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Branches, Rhizomes and Roots: Project VIII Tree-Blogging

Trees grow and change. Forests can be safe havens; meditative environments for visitors to contemplate the patterns of leaves. Forests can be menacing and frightening. Trees have historically held symbolic meaning since the beginning of time. We use the word tree as metaphor. Trees are omni-present.

The trees that grew in this project created allegorical images of environmental consciousness, references to gun violence, and thoughts of sadness and loss.

Project VIII, Jonny Gray's concept of Tree-Blogging, broke new ground for @platea by creating a mash-up of work ranging from text, images, video, sound, installation and more. It also included a visual map documenting the performance both as it happened and after the final day. Previously, our performances have concentrated on primarily one type of media; for instance, "Hopes, Dreams, Fears" featured text and "Co-Modify" relied on photos.

From Jonny's original prompts the tree branched out, slowly at first, with a flurry of additions in the last days. Most of the content stayed consistent with the tree theme, yet when I saw Jonny's "Gradient Trees" prompt, I only saw blood vessels and veins. The Tucson shootings had occurred two days earlier and I had seen diagrams of brains used by gowned surgeons who demonstrated the small survival odds of taking a bullet to the head.

From here, many of our performers morphed this image to make it their own. Here is a small sampling:

Nina Melandandri's eerie painting incorporating the brain-tree image can be seen on her tumblr.

Jonny Gray wrote a beautiful and touching poem in response:

I must not argue with her,
I tell myself.
Just listen,
Be present,
Tell the truth.

She is losing so much:
Not just the car
And the independence it represents,
But the ability to read,
To connect,
To recognize.

The gaps of memory,
Fill in with stories
And fears
Leading to "spells"
Of paranoia

Impossible things
Seem possible to her,
Or at least seem preferred alternatives
To the missing

I do not argue with her,
Evidence being too fluid
When experience cannot be shared.
She forgets reasons
But not the slights
Nestled deep
In the family tree.
They are her only weapons
Fighting a family
Fulfilling her fears.

I want to tap that fire,
Turn it away from dread
and focus it on creation.
Lose inhibition, Ma,
Lose the internalized editor,
The constant critic,
The doubt and the depression.
Lose anxiety;
Let go of concern.
Lose the illusions of identity
and embrace the you that remains.

But she cannot choose
the gaps.
And I cannot fathom
her suffering
despite my listening and
commitment to empathy.
This is a truth
I cannot argue with her.

There were many more mixtures using the brain-tree and all can be seen on the final image of the tree map.

A tree is never still, it grows without our seeing it, and it moves in the wind. It was fascinating to check the blog to see how the tree had grown overnight, seemingly by magic. Of course, the magic was easily explained, Jonny had posted the day's additions late at night and revealed them every morning.

One such discovery was the haunting melody created by Salt Theory (Craig Gingrich) using software which created a midi file based on processing the Anarchy Tree prompt, adding his own original score, and lastly, including the woodpecker sound prompt. You can listen to "Last Word to the Bird" here.

Maritza Ruiz Kim used the John Muir prompt since she lives near Muir Woods north of San Francisco. Incorporating the "A Walk in the Woods" video prompt, photographs, wood vellum, song lyrics and text, she created an installation which was wracked with unexpected side trips. Visit her blog to see Maritza's entire transformation of the original prompts.

As always with @platea performances, the unexpected relationships that form during the projects are what make them so interesting. Sound morphed with imagery, installation was added to text prompts. On the last day, an anonymous artist named Bread Crumb posted one of the prompt images in various locations around New York City (at least it appears to be NYC). It could be any large city,  thus bringing the forest to the streets.

All 16 of Bread Crumb's image links can be seen on the final tree-map.

Trees have traditionally been used as symbols of life. Roots grow into the ground while branches grow into the sky. The @platea tree developed similarly in all directions creating an existence of its own.

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