Behind the performance

Sculptural installation in the Oregon Maple in Library Square, 2017

During the 2017 exhibition Olivia Hassett created a tendon-like sculptural installation in one of the large Oregon Maples, which collapsed last June. These yellow lycra fabric pieces mirrored the lines of the cable bracing wire system that helped support some of the heavier branches of the tree. Imagery from SEM images taken by Clodagh Dooley of the internal cellular structure of the tree was printed by the artist onto the lycra fabric before it was stretched between the branches.

2017 solo performance Olivia Hassett, lycra sculptural tendon and Oregon Maple

For the 2019 exhibition Olivia decided to re engage with the ‘lycra tendon sculptures’ in another solo performance this time with the Oregon Maple embedded in the Parson’s building. Hassett used two of the tendon-like pieces during the solo performance work that formed part of the Trinity College Trees Exhibition launch event.

Hassett began the performance draped in the fabric works from 2017. The performance took place in the external first floor part of the Parson’s building extension.

An important part of the performance included the attaching and stretching of the fabric pieces from the podium of the building to and around the trunk of the Oregon Maple tree that is embedded and surrounded by the building itself. The connection between the building and the tree and the support provided by the stretched fabric was only possible during the performance and for a short period after.

The main focus of this performative work was Hassett’s continued engagement with water retaining gel as a material. As we know water and the lack of it was highlighted as being one of the key concerns for the trees of TCD. In actual fact David Hackett mentioned that adding water retaining gel to the soil of some of the trees showing signs of dehydration was one of the options open to the grounds staff to help keep the trees healthy. Having used this material before in previous performances Hassett was used to working with and was quite familiar with it’s transformative properties. When fully engorged with water the crystals weigh up to 100 times more than in their original crystalline form. The process of fast hydration and the slow return of the water to the soil is one that can occur numerous times over the life of the material, which is estimated to be about three years.

When Hassett began to workshop and think about what elements she wanted to engage with performatively during this exhibition water retaining gel was the obvious place to start. At the beginning of the performance last week she lifted in and placed two soft plastic buckets half filled with the gel beside the tree on the first floor. She then proceeded to slowly drop, squeeze and deposit the gel onto the grating that surrounds, protects and allows rain to percolate through to the roots of the Oregon Maple tree on the ground floor. Over a period of ten minutes or so Hassett continued to drop and walk on the mounds of water retaining gel forcing the material to seep and fall through the grating onto and into the installation of tube sculptures, which enabled the gel to funnel down to the roots below.

Over the course of the exhibition this gel will continue to hydrate and dehydrate in response to the weather weakening and altering the installation of paper tubes surrounding the Oregon Maple. This transformation of material is of particular interest to the artist and is also replicated in the her choice of paper as a material for the installation of tubes. She does not know how the paper sculptures will fare during the course of the four week exhibition, maybe they will delaminate, buckle and fail as a result of repeated rain showers or maybe they will survive in some shape or other. This element of working with and adapting to the unknown in nature is therefore mirrored in a small way through the choice of her materials. More images to follow from the installation…

In addition to the paper tube installation already in place on the ground floor, Hassett has also added one of the fabric tendon-like yellow lycra pieces from the 2017 exhibition. For this installation she has stretched it from the floor up through the grating on the first floor and ending up enveloping the tree trunk above. More images to follow…..

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