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The Ghost of 300 Million Drought-Killed Trees Hovers Over a Lake in Texas

The temporary art installation THIST's Ghost Tree hovers above Lady Bird Lake, as seen from Austin, TX, Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. Photo by BF Newhall

The Ghost Tree as seen from the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge in Austin, Texas. The old Lamar Bridge is in the background. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Some temporary art installations – you’re glad they’re temporary.

The half-submerged red sedan in the rhino exhibit at the Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna is a good example.

So are the hokey light projections of Danish artist Asbjoern Skou.

Ditto the wind-battered half-mile of plastic trash bags that a white-booted woman named Sheri strung across Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for the Burning Man festivities of 2008.

As you can see, I can get annoyed easily in the presence of a temporary art installation.

Sometimes it’s because the rationale behind the art work is way too rational for my taste. Skou, as an example, describes his work as “concerned with investigating the peripheral and hidden

As part of the THIRST temporary art installation, hundreds of prayer flags hang from the circular path from the pedestrian bridge down to Lady Bird Lake in Austin. Photo by BF Newhall

Some 14,000 prayer flags were strung along a 2.5-mile loop, including the circular path leading from the pedestrian bridge down to Lady Bird Lake. Photo by BF Newhall

structures of actual spaces and discourse, and communicating these in attempts to navigate and negotiate their identity.”

Huh?

Even more annoying are the artists who take out their frustration with modern life by running

People walking and sitting enjoy the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge and the THIRST temporary art installation prayer flags, Austin, TX. Photo by BF Newhall

The pedestrian bridge attracts runners, walkers, bicyclists and loafers. Photo by BF Newhall

roughshod over the viewer. The massive oil pump plopped ironically in the penguins’ enclosure at the Vienna zoo, for instance, feels a bit mean-spirited to me.

And finally, I wonder if some artists fear their authenticity creds will be endangered if they venture to create something beautiful. So many works of art, namely Sheri’s string of 2663 trashy trash bags, are just plain ugly to the eye.

That’s what was running through my head as I took in the beautiful, thoughtful Ghost Tree hovering over Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas, last week.

Placed there by a group called Women & Their Work as a temporary art installation called

Motorists get a glimps of the THIRST Ghost Tree temporary art installation from the Lamar Bridge in Austin, TX. Photo by BF Newhall

Motorists on Lamar Bridge can get a glimpse of the Ghost Tree. Photo by BF Newhall

THIRST, the Ghost Tree and the white prayer flags strung nearby are my idea of a really cool temporary art installation. Here’s why:

  • The Ghost Tree makes a statement — that a shocking 300 million trees died in the 2011 Texas drought.
  • It evokes emotion — grief at the loss of so many beautiful, nurturing living things.
  • Placed as it is at the heart of Austin in the water between two bridges, the tree enhances rather than belittles its environment.
  • And, far from alienating its viewers, the Ghost Tree creates community through a sense of shared loss.
  • And finally, to my grateful eyes, the Ghost Tree is just plain beautiful.

Painted a ghostly white, the tree – a 35-foot cedar elm that died in the 2011 drought – stands a

White prayer flags silk screened with images of dead trees hang in front of living green trees in Austin, TX. Photo by BF Newhall

Each of the 14,00 prayer flags bears the image of a dead tree. Photo by BF Newhall

few feet above the dark waters of Lady Bird Lake (named for First Lady Lady Bird Johnson). The tree’s thirsty roots, also painted a ghostly white, are just out of reach of the water below.

Complementing the tree are 14,000 prayer flags strung along a 2.5-mile loop from Lamar Bridge to the 1stStreet Bridge and the popular Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. Each flag is silk screened with

the image of a dead tree. (The flags are white, btw. That means that, unlike the once-colorful prayer flags you see all over the Himalayas and Berkeley, they won’t be fading to a dreary gray.)

Collaborating with Women & Their Work on the creation of the installation were Beili Liu, Associate Professor of Art at the University of Texas; Emily Little and Norma Yancey, of Clayton & Little Architects, and Cassie Bergstrom, of dwg landscape architecture.

The Austin, TX, Ghost Tree, part of the Women and Their Work art installation, lit up at night over the lake. Photo by BF Newhall

The Ghost Tree at night. Photo by BF Newhall

The project was supported by a grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Which makes the Ghost Tree the legacy of one of my favorite artists.

As you can see, Ginger and Ron, my Austin friends who very kindly took me and my trusty point-and-shoot for a daytime walk along the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge last week, indulged me with a second, after-dark visit to the tree.

I happened to be in Austin for a meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association, which was good timing. Installed on September 29, the Ghost Tree — temporary art installation that it is — is scheduled to be taken down on December 16.

In the case of the Ghost Tree, too bad it’s temporary.

More of my idea of beautiful arts and crafts at “Ceramics at the Berkeley Art Center” and “Sue Johnson’s Lamps and Shades — Works of Art in Berkeley.”

The white prayer flags of the THIRST temporary art installation at night. Photo by BF Newhall

Photo by BF Newhall

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Tony Hamilton says:

    Way to go.. Celebrate the destruction and loss of one of natures great wonders by destroying another natural resource. As of today lots of white paper in the lake, the movement of the tree and the protection. Will you personally be out tomorrow to help clean up this mess. What a complete waste of time and money and now we have more debris to clean up.. Just Awesome..

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Tony, Tell me more. Are you saying that the installation of the Ghost Tree (or the flags) created a lot of debris in the Lake?

  2. Powerful, Barbara, and wonderful photographs, as usual!

  3. best thing i’ve read about the ghost tree project. loved seeing this with you, and through your words.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thank you and Ron for indulging me as I took all those pictures. It was a great couple of days. And, watch out, there are more Austin pictures TK.

Trackbacks

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