My sculpture explores relations between trees, people, and our shared biophysical environment. These "Arborworks” come from trees that have been naturally harvested or have been removed because of disease or construction. The sculptures often refer to an environmental issue, such as climate change or the depreciation of nature, but their primary purpose is to move the viewer. I work to expose the hidden beauty of these pieces, through strategic cuts and careful positionings. Every project is different but they are all characterized by juxtapositions of the geometric and the organic; the intentional and the spontaneous; the light and the dark.I am an architect/designer/artist engaged in research on sustainability in the built environment at Cornell University. While much of this research has been in the form of technical investigations, I also have been continuously engaged in “creative scholarship” using wood sculpture as a form of investigation into various human/nature relationships. I use the creative project to stimulate art/design discourse as a form of outreach, as well as a source of aesthetic value.
All of my work is derived from tree parts that have been naturally harvested or removed for disease control or construction purposes, locally or abroad. My technique involves subtractive processes almost entirely. Preconceptions are rarely realized. The piece's assets and liabilities guide the work. The interventions are accomplished through small power had tools and various jigs, often using a laser-lit datum. The cut surfaces are sanded to a furniture-grade finish, contrasting with the natural surfaces, which are debarked, scorched and sealed with organic linseed oil. A recent alternative approach to finishing uses Urushi lacquer to color and seal the pieces. These techniques are fine for interior installations but for long-lasting exterior conditions, I have begun to work in metal, specifically cast iron. I have been using 3D scanning and printing technologies to create molds for sand and investment casting. This has taken two different strategies. The first is to scan something small, like an existing sculpture, digitally scale it up and print it in polylactic acid (PLA) for lost-plastic casting ("Inguino Ferro"). The second strategy is to scan something very large, like a Roman Cedar of Lebanon, scale it down, and likewise, print it in PLA for casting ("Tormenti").
My work is rooted in a number of sculptural traditions. The first is abstract expressionism where the spontaneous is celebrated in contrast with intentional interventions (Noguchi, Nash. The second is contemporary environmental art where rather than consider the earth as media (Heizer, Goldsworthy, the earth is understood as message, where the declining state of affairs is driving aesthetic efforts (Eliasson, Studio Orta). Finally, and somewhat surprisingly, there is a lot of philosophical similitudes between my values and those who practice the ancient tradition of tree-root carving in China, a topic that I have personally researched and documented. Here, the artist starts with a natural root and intervenes minimally such that "three-tenths of the piece is done by the artist and seven-tenths is done by nature," attaching great importance to making use of the traits of the given root. Typically, a figurative motif is integrated into the unique attributes of the wood form. In my case, I try to integrate abstract geometric surfaces into the natural forms that the specific tree-part provides. The sensitivity and respect that the Chinese tree root artist has to works of nature is a useful exemplar for how human society can interact with the natural world at large: a partnership rather than a stewardship. This is the model that I try to follow as I work to integrate a wide variety of influences, both western and eastern, both male and female, both ecological science and ecological art. However, I also see my approach as being distinct from these models as having a more biocentric focus than anthropocentric. I strive for a post-humanist approach to sculpture, where direct references to the human condition are not addressed. Instead, the work references biophysical issues impacting non-humans, such as trees or their communities. Of course, humans are responsible for most of these impacts and therein lies the irony. By deliberately not focusing on humankind, we may come to see the human-nature relationship differently. We may start to understand the new Green Golden rule: By caring about the health and well-being of non-persons, we ensure the health and well-being of ourselves.