I've added two large grape-vine trunks and several small branches to the tree sculpture I'm working on, the last in this series. This feels like the right fullness to me. Frankly, I'm glad I have any kind of tree at all.
About a month ago, I discovered borer beetles were feasting on the wood: the tiny holes in the wood and the piles of sawdust I woke up to each morning were the tip-off (see previous post). Every day, more holes and more sawdust. At the rate the beetles seemed to be indulging, my sculpture would soon be a useless sieve.
This series of artworks is about integrating nature, spirit, and technology, elements that we often assume don't cohabitate all that well. Technology, in my mind, was the material I was subduing: after all, aren't cell phones and computers and our increasingly mechanized world significant contributors to the anxiety so many people are feeling nowadays, and adding to our growing disconnection from each other? For the moment, though, it wasn't the computer parts—mostly ceramic clay varistors and capacitors—that were giving me problems, it was these beautiful pieces of organic wood and the pests they were hosting.
To keep the beetles from spreading, I sealed the wood in multiple layers of plastic using heavy packing tape. Orkin Exterminators makes house calls, so an inspector, Earl, came out to take a look. He liked what I'd done with the plastic. I poked a hole in it and Earl shook his head. For $1,800, he said, he could gas the buggers, which seemed out of the question to me. Then he shared an exterminator's secret: I could either put the wood in the oven for several hours, or in a freezer for two or three days. The idea of cooking the wood made me squeamish; plus, my oven was too small. The freezer above my refrigerator also wouldn't accommodate the biggest pieces of wood. But surely someone had a freezer that would work?
I put on a jacket and went outside. I talked to the man who owns the pizza parlor a block north of my apartment. He is a huge fan of art, and someone who has always seemed game to me. When I explained my problem, he laughed and said, "Sounds like you're hiding drugs." I assured him I wasn't, but he said he still couldn't help since all he had was an oversized refrigerator. I walked a half-block north, to the ice cream shop. There's always a crowd out front, and that day was no different. I stared at the shop's pristine white walls and immaculate tiled floor and the counter help all dressed in white shirts. I didn't even bother to go in. But across from the ice cream shop is a corner grocery where I've been shopping for 18 years. I've only known the current owner for five of those years, but maybe that would count for something. The owner told me he did have a room-sized walk-in freezer, accessible from outside. But he was concerned that a 20-pound block of ice might fall on the wood and then he'd be liable. I assured him that what I had was merely a work in progress all safely sealed in thick plastic—Orkin approved—basically junk wood worthless in its present form, so he agreed to let me store it in his freezer for three days.
After I got the wood back home, I unwrapped it and for days I circled the piece, watching and waiting. I'd read recently that a slab of ancient moss had suddenly begun growing again, and I wondered if the borer beetles could do something similar. I kept my vigil up for a week, but I saw and heard nothing. (When the beetles are eating, there is a distinct and constant clicking or rattling sound that they make. Some entomologist decided the sound was similar to the one humans often make when we're gasping for breath at the end of life, and so the beetles were nicknamed the deathwatch beetle.) This weekend, satisfied that the beetles were gone, I attached the extra pieces of wood to the base tree with dowels and glue. I stood back. I'd subdued something, which is what culture is, after all. And art grows out of culture. Then why wasn't I entirely pleased?
Step Three: Coming soon...
At some level, everything feels connected to me. This blog is about discovering those linkages as well as other artists and writers working and thinking in similar ways.