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Trees Of Life Rise From Soil Of Urban Violence

by Allan Appel | Dec 9, 2013 1:03 pm

(3) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Arts & Culture, Visual Arts

Out came the glue, the dowels, the screws, and the hot-rodders’ auto body silver paint.

That’s no way to treat cedar, maple, and beautifully expressive branches of mountain laurel—unless you’re an artist making trees that will shine in the night and provoke a conversation about urban violence.

Artists Nick Pfaff and Hannah Plotke had that plan in mind in putting together Through the Trees: An Interactive Memorial to the Victims of Gun Violence, a show that is rising in Artspace’s Lot and will sprout there through Dec. 30.

One afternoon this week, as dozens of passengers waiting for the Chapel Street buses eyed him, Pfaff climbed ladders and finished constructing his grove of three cedar trunks and three maples, with each of the six trees festooned with branches of mountain laurel.

From these branches on these trunks Pfaff hopes decorations, hangings, written messages, even performances will emerge in the weeks ahead. He has visited city classrooms to encourage students to contribute pieces on the theme of urban violence: how to prevent it and how to heal after it has struck.

Pfaff and Plotke got the kernel of the idea when they both worked on an exhibition at the state capitol and participated in a forum in the spring of this year in the aftermath of the catastrophic Newtown shooting.

Pfaff said lots of submissions for the exhibition, both from kids and adults, related to trees. “They’re a symbol of growth, strength, standing” in the face of adversity, he said.

On the other hand, they did not receive many submissions from kids in urban areas on the subject. Pfaff, who lost a close friend to the cycle of urban violence, is a profound believer in art as a platform for dialogue and maybe even healing.

He and Plotke wanted to be sure that urban kids were not left out.

Hence was born an exhibition of trees, but ones that literally will grow and reflect urban life.

Click here on the Artspace site for a fuller description of the project.

That’s why the trees, all dried out in his backyard for a month, were then painted with that signature urban color, auto body chrome.

The paint job reveals nifty patterns of clefts, ruts, and marks of the life, former life, that is, of the now urban denizens.

Art Steps in Where Community Has Failed

Pfaff has visited a handful of New Haven schools to discuss the project. He hopes to have kids from Co-Op High and ECA , among other schools, visit as early as next week to respond to the trees and perhaps to find in his grove a forum to express things close to inexpressible.

I asked Pfaff if art can truly make a contribution to healing.

“There’s a stigma attached when someone is a victim of gun violence. I don’t think that negates their value to community and family. And in some sense the community has failed [victims of violence]. I feel it’s an obligation for us to examine the reality of why this happened, to give a platform for discussion,” he said.

After all, what are chrome trees for?

The exhibition will also feature prints by Josh Rowley. Throughout the run, the artists will be on the Lot every Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to help choreograph whatever sprouts up.

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posted by: Bill Saunders on December 9, 2013  3:28pm

Urban Violence is such a Christmassy theme! 
Maybe we can just grow trees there, and stop the nonsense.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on December 9, 2013  4:51pm

Where are these trees going up?  You said Artspace’s lot, and Chapel Street, but it would be helpful to know the exact location, for those who aren’t acquainted with “Artspace’s lot.”

posted by: OhHum on December 9, 2013  5:01pm

Perhaps we can stop calling this stuff “art” and call it what it is. A bad decoration in a lousy looking vacant lot. Enough said.

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