Science meets art at the New England Regional Art Museum

It seemed like a fun idea at the time.  Science Week was coming up and Inspiring NSW was offering funding for events that engaged children with science – a perfect opportunity to get creative and bring science and art together! Cherene Splendelove organized the funding and collected the various groups together to form the North Western Regional Science Hub. The group was a partnership between the Catalyst Club, The Armidale Tree Group, Southern New England Landcare (SNELCC), The Department of Education and The New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM).

IMG_001

It all started with a pile of cardboard boxes

Cherene’s idea was to create an interactive sculpture that would give children a special opportunity to think about trees and their significance in the environment. We were aware of the ICT Technology SMART Tree project that involved scientists monitoring trees with remote technology to record data from ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ trees.  Living SMART Trees are being monitored around the world, including at The Armidale Tree Group, and school science students are already interacting with the data. We planned to take an extra step and make a tree that visitors could actually go inside and Explore smart Trees from the Inside Out!

IMG_1586

There was something enticing about the inside of the tree for children and adults

Benjamin Thorn and I were consulted and threw our thoughts into the ring. It all started with a pile of cardboard boxes. We energetically set to work creating a sculptural and auditory representation of a tree using recycled boxes and other easily accessible materials. Many hours were spent in the foyer space of NERAM … mapping out the tree, arranging boxes, climbing ladders and wrapping seemingly endless metres of cloth tape around the structure that very quickly dominated the gallery space and was clearly visible from the street!

 

During the process, we tackled a number of structural, creative and engineering challenges. Those boxes just kept wanting to fall down. Getting the audio to play when someone entered the tree was also an issue. We also worked with children in art meets science workshops, engaged with visitors to discuss what we were up to and answered spontaneous interview questions from radio journalists.

The task of generating ‘tree’ sounds that could be triggered by visitors entering the tree was a challenge.  However, by sourcing real tree recordings and also creating their own sounds that replicated the sounds of sap popping or branches creaking, we managed to create an amazing multi-sensory experience that visitors could immerse themselves in when they entered the tree sculpture.

IMG_3030

The tree had just stated to grow

From the OUTSIDE, we could all perceive the tree shape in the assembled boxes, but as we went INSIDE the sculptural tree it was possible to imagine entering a living tree – experiencing the close comfort of the tree’s shelter and listening to the sounds of a living and growing tree.

For the duration of the project, the community, school groups and other groups of interested children, had an opportunity to learn about trees from botanist David Carr by taking a ‘tree walk’ along Black Gully and visiting a living SMART Tree at The Armidale Tree Group.  Then, having considered the science, visitors could explore the sculptural SMART Tree at NERAM.

But it didn’t stop there.  The tree kept growing and small creatures began to inhabit it! The tree seemed to have a life of its own. Visitors took time to make and add their own leaves to the tree or create a small creature to live in or on the tree.  Just as on a living tree, foliage continued to grow, branches extended or drooped, and animal life moved in!

The tree seemed to have a life of its own.

The tree seemed to have a life of its own.

Science Week was long past when the time came to dismantle the sculpture.  In the same way that a living tree takes many years to grow but can be destroyed swiftly, the sculptural tree came down quickly and easily. The sculptural SMART Tree is now gone, but it has left an impact on the community and maybe we are all a little more familiar with what it might be like to be inside a tree! Find out more by listening to our interview by local ABC radio personality Kelly Fuller.

The high tech end of the smart tree project

The high tech end of the smart tree project

The sculptural SMART Tree is now gone, but it has left an impact on the community and maybe we are all a little more familiar with what it might be like to be inside a tree! Find out more by listening to our interview by local ABC radio personality Kelly Fuller.

http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2013/08/12/3823355.htm

 

IMG_1161