Sanctuary (Walmart Forest)

Isolated inside a white cube art space, a supposedly neutral format of contemporary museums, commercial galleries and - increasingly - Western-style housing, four white birch tree trunks are 'growing' in a line out of the painted floor. Purchased from the craft department of Walmart.com, their bark is illuminated with fluorescent tubes that recall the big box store in this anti-natural forest.

 

For this product the straightest trees are harvested, trimmed of inconvenient branches and roots, and heat-sterilized to prevent contamination of the customer’s home with insects or plant life. The cube's exposed exterior spotlights the transition from outside world to gallery and creates a dialogue between the birch plywood, chemically processed and made invisible for art-display purposes, and the birch poles, left in selectively original form for the consumer's integration of natural accents into their geometric habitats. As the white walls and floor accentuate the trees' natural variations in color, form and texture, they render them untouchable. Upright and dominating the space, the amputated forms retain their dignity. A barrier-like configuration leaves the viewer unsure whether to pass between them, giving the trees power over a species that violated them in the name of decoration.

The installation was displayed with a printout of the Walmart purchase webpage, which included suggested items of interest, manufacturer part number, customer ratings, reviews and images, and related advertising (at the time of printout, lavender flavored bleach.)

Birch trees, first to regenerate after catastrophic forest fires, can perhaps act as symbols of hope. It may be that they will survive the destructive Human Age, and quietly cover our tracks with irregular white shoots.

 

 

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