Tree Eavesdropping Artist Statement

Take the perspective of a tree.  It can communicate, has memory, learns and has plant-specific intelligence.  Some people insist intelligence requires a brain (like ours). The new view is that intelligence is the ability to respond to challenges in one’s environment, to make smart decisions and solve problems.  In awe of the fact that a tree can easily live over 10 times my lifetime without moving from where its root brain first grew – all the while feeding itself from the sun, I began my artistic research and humbling inquiry.

Although this project was created by repurposing human technologies, it was always led by intuition and the heart.  Under Master Arborist Tchukki Andersen, I learned how to begin to sense, feel and listen to trees.  I met a very special one and asked permission to collaborate. The smallest possible sensing probe, the size of an acupuncture needle, was carefully hand-placed not far underneath the bark of the tree.  Once the approximate 360 millivolts were confirmed, the signal was digitized into a computer, translated into sound and broadcast over the tree’s custom wifi network into the museum.  Rather than using the tree’s signal to drive visual art synthesized in the computer, on this Earth Day 2015, my intention is to share it with all who will come here and take the time to deeply consider our green neighbors and engage in a public interpretive drawing.

To help facilitate an artistic collaboration between the public and this tree is an honor I’m sincerely grateful for and have many friends and collaborators to thank. Janey Winchell’s vision and Soniya Tejwani’s never-ending support helped me think and grow.  Lead Technical Advisor, Zach Weiss and Tree-wifi designer, Sean Pyburn helped me do. I’d like to thank the generous staff at PEM for making this possible and you, the tree’s signal interpreter, for completing this piece.

David Yann Robert, 4/20/2015, Salem, MA.