TREE OF KNOWLEDGE SERIES
Shredded paper shattered wood fragments glue
300 x 300 x 15cm
Collection: BHP Billiton Art Collection
The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE series commemorates the tree in its sacrificial form -- the book. It also anticipates the end of the book (if that were possible). Although the computer makes its own demands on the natural environment, in the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE series I follow a serious, albeit wishful, train of thought -- that there will come a time when the computer, with its built-in calculus or silicone chip, could release us from our dependency on the book as our instrument of computation and storage of information.
Before the invention of paper, knowledge was managed and recorded by various means. Druids and seers made use of prehistoric 'stationery' such as bones, wrinkles, stars and, more particularly, stones, to muse on facts and figures. The world's oldest 'computer' is arguably the psephos of the Greeks or the calculus of the Romans, the pebble, which was an instrument of thought and reckoning. In DRUID'S KEYBOARD I emphasise the change-over from the 'age of the pebble' to the 'age of paper'. The 36 pebbles made from 36 species of wood represent paper's dependency on wood, and the 26 letters and ten numerals we use in the common western alphabet and counting systems. The druids reflected on large stone rings, or smaller objects arranged in circles, showing regard for cyclical change as observed in the sun, planets and seasons. Their world was round and in motion, a world-view in sharp contrast to the flat and square one we obtain from the compressed, four-sided pages of books.
Computers are still in their infancy, but at present they seem more likely to contribute to the excessive consumption of paper than to reduce it. This puts our ecological environment under severe pressure, as forests are destroyed to supply the ever-growing demand for a writing surface. Books are some of the most desirable objects on earth: yet few people realise that what libraries contain is innumerable trees, broken and battered beyond recognition.
Piet Mondrian paid homage to the tree in a series of well-known paintings. He contemplated the transformation of the tree from its existence as natural wonder to its role as universal agency, signifying an essentially vertical and horizontal equilibrium. LETTERS TO GOD also refers to the alliance of the tree to the book as creating a bridge or ladder, which we mount to reach ultimate knowledge or perfection. But, unlike Mondrian's painting, this work is also mindful of the terrible cost of appropriating real trees for making books. The base of the work uses block-like quaternaries similar to Mondrian's to convey the tree's own architecture. To make paper, we bludgeon the tree into dispirited splinters and slivers. Then we reconstitute these deconstructed, shattered pieces of wood into paper to fulfil the 'noble' role of bearer of information. The top section of LETTERS TO GOD spreads out into the fibrous structure of paper as seen under a microscope. Its 'branches' are literally bits of tree, re-made into the perverted image of yet another tree-- the Tree of Knowledge, represented by paper and the book. The 'letters' in LETTERS TO GOD are those of the Greek alphabet, hidden within the metaphorical branches, so that, should we attempt to pick them, as Eve did, we violate the tree. The title TREE OF KNOWLEDGE derives from the book of Genesis: '... from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat'. The 'tree' is taken as all the paper and books of the world, and its 'fruit' is the text and ultimately the ideas that can be harvested from it.
BROKEN GARDEN is a re-enactment of the crucifixion in which the 'Word of God' is nailed to the 'tree' -- Christ nailed to a wooden cross. The spiky splinters of the work are meant to reinforce the idea that knowledge in an alphabetic, book-dependent society comes at a great cost to the universal tree, and that such knowledge causes pain, both to our natural resources and ultimately, as the sole repository of learning, to us. The wood of the work is real timber, battered into splintered pieces with a four-pound hammer to simulate the cruxifixion.
BROKEN GARDEN is divided into 36 wooded sections (the 26 letters of the alphabet plus the ten numerals). Splinters of dark hardwood provide the dividing lines in a configuration of four noughts-and-crosses patterns. The cross in the centre, formed by the torn paper, is a crossroad or carfax, a forking into four, signifying the place where the four major academic disciplines meet.