January 30 – May 30, 2018
The natural world figures prominently in childhood, more so before the Internet, Gameboy, fear of predators and frequent litigation stunted daily play. Perhaps it is the spontaneously creative imagination of children that sees nature as a stage with magical possibilities. The internal censor that inhibits and arrives with adulthood is years away from landing on their shoulders. The enchanted forest exists for the young at heart.
What child hasn’t dreamed of climbing into treetops perched on a limb for a bird’s eye view? A hand-made swing hung from the strong arm of our backyard maple was my heart’s desire. Instead, Sears Roebuck assembled our swing set on delivery. A tree whose thick circumference can conceal during a game of “Hide and Seek is the best hiding place in the eyes of a child. The weeping willow on our front lawn became a readymade clubhouse. It’s drooping branches doubled as long flowing hair and mane as we galloped on mops down the driveway.
In fiction, television programming and cinema, trees are often portrayed as living prescient beings. There’s something in us that wants to believe that trees can talk, to each other and to visitors. One example, in the children’s story “The Giving Tree,” author Shel Silverstein tells of one tree that provides for a lifetime of “asks” from one small boy. The tree gives and gives by its own will until eventually one little old man asks for the tree to sacrifice its own existence. And the tree gives.
Hollywood has definitely perpetuated the idea that trees talk. Remember the cantankerous old apple tree in the “Wizard of Oz” that slapped Dorothy and the Scarecrow for picking apples. “How would you like someone to come along and pick something off of you?” a tree asks Dorothy. What of Groot, a tree-like being from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie and comic book? He’s not the most loquacious of trees as the only words he can utter are “I am Groot,” but he is an expert in “quasi-dimensional super-positional engineering.” While not an actual tree, Agent 13, played by Bill Murray, in “Get Smart” was always shown in a tree costume with his face poking out from a knothole. “I get it. Who wants to talk to a guy in a tree?” says Agent 13 to Agent 86. Other trees include Tolkien’s Ents, the twisted oak of “Pan Labyrinth,” Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow, Disney’s Grandmother Willow from “Pocahontas”, and the beast from “A Monster Calls” to name a few of visual media’s animated tree-beings.
Suzanne Simard, professor at the University of British Columbia and a forest ecologist, has been studying trees and how they communicate. Through her research she concludes that trees talk not with words but through a symbiotic underground root system called mycorrhizal (soil fungus) networks. The “Mother Trees” (also called Hub Trees) are the largest trees in the forest. These Mother Trees protect “the family” as they direct the root systems to guide nutrients to saplings and other plant life that have need. They can also instruct the latticed fungi to make space for growing seedlings. The root systems connect to many species of trees no matter if deciduous or cone bearing.
The Mother Trees warn of climate change and predators on the network. For instance, if insects attack a tree, all the trees are on alert. When giraffes eat acacia tree leaves, found mostly in Australia and Africa, a warning chemical goes out to other trees that are downwind. These trees then release toxic tannin that protects the leaves from being eaten. Here we have trees communicating. We have trees revealing information. We have trees calling attention to something. I call it “Tree Talk.”
In this exhibition called “Tree Talk” the Griffin Museum of Photography brings 66 photographers who converse with trees. The exhibit has been organized to flow as a narrative from the beginning to end of the passageway. In this way the trees all talk to each other. We hope our audience enjoys the exhibition and that all of the trees give up their secrets to you.
The photographers include: Roger Archibald, Frank Armstrong, Craig Becker, Karen Bell, Patricia A. Bender, Anne Berry, Meg Birnbaum, Todd Bradley, Joy Bush, Jessica Chen, Robert Dash, Adam Davies, Adrienne Defendi, L. Aviva Diamond, Barbara Diener, Benjamin Dimmitt, Estelle Disch, Alex Djordjevic, Ken Dreyfack, Mitch Eckert, Carol Erb, Diane Fenster, Kev Filmore, Doug Fogelson, Connie Gardner Rosenthal, Conrad Gees, Linda Haas, Law Hamilton, Charlotta Hauksdottir, Jeanne Hildenbrand, Mark Indig, Carol Isaak, Diana Nicholette Jeon, Doug Johnson, Amy Kanka Valadarsky, Susan Keiser, Sandra Klein, Karen Klinedinst, Brian Kosoff, David Kulik, Susan Lapides, Mark Levinson, Susan Lirakis, Aline Mare, Kevin Miyazaki, Colleen Mullins, Arthur Nager, Bernie Newman, Marcy Palmer, Jane Paradise, Susan Prediger, Paula Riff, Gordon Reynolds, Gail Samuelson, Holly Roberts, Wendi Schneider, Jean Schnell, Tony Schwartz, Sara Silks, Richella Simard, David Whitney, Vicky Stromee, Dawn Watson, Nina Weinberg Doran, Dianne Yudelson and Mike Zeis.
Any questions regarding the artwork can be directed to the Griffin Museum at 781-729-1158 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We want to thank the Downtown Boston Improvement District and Lafayette City Center for their continued support of the Griffin Museum of Photography. We have enjoyed every moment you have allowed us to exhibit here.
Executive Director and Curator
Griffin Museum of Photography
January 22, 2018