Roxy Paine currently exhibits three sculptures in Madison Square Park. “Conjoined” and “Defunct” are trees made up of stainless steel, and “Erratic” is a swollen, bulbous rock. “Conjoined,” placed in the middle of the park, immediately captures your attention. It is forty feet tall and forty-five feet wide; two trees lean toward each other, their branches entangle until at the top the two trees seem to be one. I discovered it one day as I walked into the park during my lunch break. A gigantic replica of the artist’s small steel model was being welded up in the air. The process was fascinating; it reminded me of climbing a tree, except in this case they were constructing the tree as they climbed up it. I was also reminded of a project I had seen where an artist knit an oversize American flag up in the air using enormous knitting needles and industrial construction machines; in the park this time, instead of knitting a giant flag, they were welding together a life-size tree, or constructing a large metallic puzzle. The tangled courses and intersections of the branches create a web, and in many places the two tree forms grow into each other.
The sculptures are quite life-like and interact with the foliage in the park in a wonderful way, but they are not real enough to form a continuum with the rest of the park. “It’s amazing to have a place to show these pieces in the middle of New York City,” said Roxy Paine in a video about this project. Indeed, it is a perfect place to view the work, because after all they are man-made trees in a man-made park, surrounded by the architecture of the Flatiron and Gramercy neighborhoods of Manhattan. It made me think about the manipulation and mediation of nature. Paine brings up our current technological and biological practices, including the process of cloning and genetic enhancement. The pieces create a fantasy of a futuristic world where trees are manufactured from steel. Paine uses advanced technology and synthetic materials to simulate nature; the objects may look like large casts, but they are actually completely fabricated. The artist says, “They’re made from the material most antithetical to the organic version…The pipes those trees are made from are used in pharmaceutical plants, heavy industry and so on. There’s a transformative aspect to those pieces, an alchemical transformation that is a potential symbol of our advancement of technology.” In this case the imitation, the cold, industrial version of nature, is more alluring and prophetic than the real thing.
Paine is acutely aware of the biological details of the objects he depicts. “Conjoined” and “Erratic” are named for the geological phenomenon of objects deposited by glaciers a long way from the materials and processes to which they relate. His previous work includes extremely convincing replicas of mushrooms and other plant life in various stages of decay. He draws on the increasing tension between organic and man-made environments. “The tree evolved from doing the mushrooms and the fungus pieces and looking at these things as a language—the way something grows, the way it decays, the kinds of rot that grow on it. Its part of a process where I try to learn each plant species I’m working with so well that I can improvise within their rules. Once you learn a language, you can create an infinite number of new sentences using the rules of that language,” he stated. Paine addresses the intersection of earth and art in a profound, graceful way.
Roxy Paine was born in New York in 1966 and studied at both the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico and at the Pratt Institute in New York. His work has been exhibited internationally and included in many major museum collections. His tree sculptures can be found at various museums and foundations including the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, WA; Wanas Foundation, Knislinge, Sweden; Montenmedio Arte Contemporaneo NMAC, Cadiz, Spain; and the St. Louis Museum of Art, St. Louis, MO. Roxy Paine lives and works in Brooklyn and Treadwell, NY.
By Sheena Sood
Roxy Paine. Online 20 June 2007.
Sq. Art Roxy Paine. Online. 20 June 2007.
When at Brown University Sheena Sood majored in both Comparative Literature with Translation and Visual Arts, with Honors. She enjoys occasional voyages abroad with her family to visit relatives in India. Sheena moved to Brooklyn in 2006. firstname.lastname@example.org