SOCRATES SCULPTURE PARK
Long Island City, NY
The Socrates Annual: October 5, 2019 – March 8, 2020. Opening reception Saturday, October 5, 4:00 – 6:00 PM
Seed Box: Trees of New York, 2019
Cornus alternifolia, Quercus macrocarpa, Hamamelis virginiana, Liquidambar styraciflua, Cercis canadensis alba, soil, mulch, container pots, wood, epoxy, brass, steel mesh, digital print on vinyl. 25 x 10 x 8 ft.
Seed Box: Trees of New York resembles, at a magnified scale, a specialized case used to preserve and transport seeds and plants over long ocean voyages in the early 18th century. This installation responds to a complex history of global trade throughout the Atlantic region and across the world during an era of colonial expansion. It relates to the natural environs of Socrates Sculpture Park and its location on the East River, once a major shipping route. The installation is comprised of four parts: a giant box with compartments, handles, and a keyhole; a matching lid with ventilation peep holes; living trees native to the northeastern region of the Americas; and oversized hand-made sculptures of seeds. Eighteenth-century botanical textile patterns, an Enlightenment-era map of the world, and an early depiction of logging cover the bracing straps of the box and lid.
Seed exchange transformed English parkland with an abundance of indigenous North American trees and plants, demonstrating new ideas of nature. Those who collected the seeds were often paid with cloth – a currency of its own – and depictions of trees from the Americas were incorporated into designs for textiles and furnishings. These trees were viewed as a raw material for extraction. Deforestation in colonial territories provided timber for ships and new settlements, while clearing the land for cash crops. There are cumulative environmental effects and lasting consequences.
One aim of this project is to provide a new context for the seed box today. The giant size of the box and sculpted seeds, and the inclusion of indigenous saplings, encourage a sense of wonder and awe, inspiring the protection of nature. This work also conveys a sense of time and potential: if left untouched, in 10 or 20 years the trees and their roots would overtake and dismantle the box and lid. The trees chosen for this project follow the recommendations of the New York Division of Land and Forests guide to native species. There are variations in tree bark, in the shape and color of leaves, and beautiful differences in branch formation. These five trees grow over a vast range, extending beyond borders: they are native to the New York region and the northeast; yet depending on the species, their natural range encompasses Canada or Mexico. The sculpted winged seed is modeled from the critically endangered North American Ash, and the pinecone is from the Eastern Hemlock, threatened by insect pests due to climate change and global trade.
As an artist I am interested in uncovering historical and ecological connections between places, people, and things. I remake and transform images and objects from the past to respond to legacies of colonialism. In Hawaii, where I am from, forced and excessive logging of abundant native sandalwood trees – coveted by the outside world - led to famine, population decline of the Hawaiian people, and near obliteration of the sandalwood trees by the 1840s. I am interested in seeing my own history and art practice as something interwoven, connected to other colonial histories and to global issues of migration, labor, and ecology.