The gold-patina, steel-reinforced resin and fiberglass mirror image of the famous hollow tree in Stanley Park will stand in front of a billboard-sized image of Stanley Park forest at the entrance to an Intracorp condo tower complex.
And already the tongues are wagging.
This is when the art is working, when people are a little alarmed at the materials, the placement, the meaning. If art is a conversation with many often conflicting viewpoints, public artwork connects directly to the public. We not only have the opportunity to weigh in; we have the right.
So I'm weighing here on Golden Tree: Love, love, love. A respected colleague suggested I was drinking the Coupland Kool-Aid. So I had to think about that. Am I too close to the artist to form a critique? What exactly has me digging the blingy dead tree-thing?
For the record, unlike Coupland, I was not in the 'for' camp for propping up the dead tree-thing in Stanley Park, or, at least in the way it was done (see video clip below on the story behind the prop-up project). I could not understand the panic around the parks board's news that the rotted, leaning partial carcass would have to go back to nourishing the forest floor. To quell the knee-jerk public outcry, the shell-fragment has been stabilized with concrete and steel. So now we have fake tree-thing, with all the artistic integrity of a movie prop or Disney street-furniture, and I'm sure the tourists love it.
There had to be a better way to remember that scrap of a giant relic of the last stand of old growth forest that has been replaced by a dense forest of glass, concrete and steel. And now we have it, incongruously situated in the newest area of condo-tower densification, the gold evoking (to me, at least) festishization of an object, or our view of the ancient temperate rainforest seen through gold-coloured glasses as we glide by on the Canada Line.
I like the idea that the title necessarily includes 'tree' because this sculpture's connection to tree-ness is tenuous, sort of like someone's stuffed dead pet cat, now with marble eyes and in regal pose for all eternity. The title could have been This is Not A Tree, evoking Belgian surrealist artist Magritte's The Treachery of Images work, specifically his Ceci n'est pas une pipe (This is Not A Pipe) that is in fact not a pipe but a painting of a pipe.
From a working-artist viewpoint, Golden Tree, like Coupland's Infinite Tire, ingeniously walks that fine line between creating a work that will be approved by the private developer but that doesn't pander to that payer. Its form, placement and materials deny a single meaning, reflecting these shifting, tenuous times. It could have easily been included in The Uncertainty of Objects and Ideas at the Smithsonian for its powerful subtext. (Hear more about the power of uncertainty in sculpture in this podcast interview with Hirshhorn museum curator Anne Ellegood.)
Now that we have a powerful tribute to the last "standing" giant conifer in the downtown area, perhaps we can let the original go the way nature intended, helping ensure the future of the city's lungs in Stanley Park.