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…..

I have already posted a blog about the architectural extension to the Parsons building designed by Grafton Architects. Since I started working with David Taylor in 2013 I have always been interested in how the original and extension to the Parsons building were designed to abut each other.

After spending some time looking at the buildings and more specifically the extension from numerous viewpoints I really grew to appreciate the lines created by the Architects’ designs and how the architecture encapsulated and protects the Oregon Maple tree from the full brunt of any storms that occur.


I spent a good amount of time a month or so ago photographing both the interior of the parsons building where the old building is visible inside the new extension and from the outside. I am still drawn to the area where bricks from the original 19th Century building were deliberately preserved and are on display in the main corridor. The idea that where both building meet is visible inside and the fact that this outside of one building in now part of the inside space draws me to think of notions of liminal, between spaces where time and memory are layered, preserved and celebrated.


I spent a considerable amount of time photographing this area from a variety of angles. I have chosen one of these images to include as part of a light box piece in the exhibition.

Where the two buildings met outside was not as visually interesting for me. I was more taken by the area where the Oregon Maple and the new extension met.


There was one particular exterior image that caught my eye and I decided to do some line drawings to represent it. I was keen to engage with the idea of in between spaces and layers to reflect the notions that the building bring about for me.

I decided to start by drawing on different types, grades and sizes of tracing paper. Many many hours and drawing later I was happy with some of the results. The pieces I have chosen to include in the exhibition are in fact drawn on cork board and will be installed either inside or beside the noticeboards in the Parsons building space.

The drawings on tracing paper I have decided to use in a different way. In many ways I think they liken architectural drawings and I decided to play on this and extend the representation to roll them up and use them like pillars, all be it deliberately weak ones that might fail and crumple at some point during the exhibition, a fact that I am happy may occur. This of course would mirror some of conversations between David Taylor and I over the years and more specifically some of his recent scientific research. The light box that they are installed on emanates a gentle light from inside the rolled paper illuminating the drawing, which is layered on itself.

Again more images to follow after the installation is up.

Launch 28th March

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Following on from the success of the collaborative art installation in eight trees on the TCD campus in 2017 the Trinity College Trees Team* are delighted to announce the opening of their newest collaborative exhibition embrittled | resilient

Open to the public during normal business hours April 1st – May 3rd 2019 this exhibition will launch with a series of events on Thursday 28th March.

  • 17.30 pm meet in the Museum Building (follow signs as the front door may be closed) to view the exhibition. David Taylor, David Hackett and Tim Hone will give a short introduction to some of the scientific and conservation information on display.
  • 18.00 pm meet in the Parsons Building to view the exhibition.
  • 18.15 pm solo art performance by Olivia Hassett beside the Oregon Maple outside the Parsons Building
  • 18.30 pm refreshments will be available in foyer area of the Parsons building.

Initially the the two 170 year old majestic Oregon Maples in Library Square were the focus of this exhibition until one fell and the other had to be cut down. One of the two remaining Oregon Maples, descendant from the fallen trees and also sited on campus, became the new focus for the project.

Embrittled | resilient will focus on factors which affect the strength and conservation of the trees, including water, wind and age. Located in both the Museum and Parsons buildings the exhibition will comprise of a mixture of art works, scientific research and information about the conservation of the Maples.

For more information on the 2017 and 2019 projects and exhibitions please visit Contact email:

*Trinity College Trees Team: David Hackett, Olivia Hassett, David Taylor.

Consultants: Conor Buckley, Colin Reid and Tim Hone.

This project and exhibition was funded by the Trinity College Performing Arts Grant.

TCD Trees 2019 Press Release

Sounds from inside the tree!!

Very soon after the two older Oregon Maples fell the Trinity College Trees team had a meeting. It became apparent early on after initial testing that lack of water seemed to be one of the crucial factors that contributed in a large part to the demise of both trees.

Having already a keen interest in the internal cellular structure of the trees and more specifically the xylem and phloem transport system (some drawings of this system will be in the upcoming exhibition) I began to research further into these topics.


David Hackett also talked about how at the beginning of spring time when rain water is plentiful and the tree is thirsty and hungry, eager to start the active growing process after the quiet winter months, using special instruments one can actually hear the water moving up the tree. David described it like a popping sound, more specifically like bubbles popping.

Having dabbled in past years to try to record discrete sounds emanating from inside the human body and from other visceral materials (with mixed results) I knew this was an area that I would really like to look into again. Armed with the specific tree knowledge from David Hackett I went online to see what I could find out about the recording of water traveling up a tree.

During this research I came across a very interesting artist called Alex Metcalf who works in the UK. He is the main artist involved in the Tree Listening Project. He described his project as follows:

tree listener woodland trust

“Have you ever thought what goes on behind the bark of a tree? The Tree Listening Project uses highly sensitive microphones to make audible the inner workings of trees. We hear the rumble of the tree moving and the popping of the water as it mixes with air on it’s way up through the Xylem tubes just behind the bark, the very life of the tree surging up from the roots towards the leaves.”

Tree Listener short video

Having seen all the amazing work being done by Alex I thought I would really like to see if it was possible to get a tree listening devise made up for The Trinity College Trees Project 2019. It is possible to hire Alex Metcalf and get him to install his tree listening project at a specific site. Doing this for TCD I thought would be wonderfully interesting but for me as an artist it didn’t feel like the right option for various reasons.  Primarily all the research and developments the team had worked on would end up being a bit removed from anything that was just imported into the TCD site.

I was still really interested in this strand of research so I continued to see how I could engage with it in a meaningful way. I was concerned at this stage that I had a lot of really interesting groundbreak elements of research on the go at the same time. I was running the risk of not have enough time to fully go down one path or another.

How and ever I decided still to try and get a device made to record the sound of the Oregon Maples. It has been a bit hit and miss so far to be honest. I initially contacted Sinead McDonald who is one of the founding members of TOG.

“TOG is a hacker space based in the centre of Dublin, Ireland. It is a shared space where members have a place to be creative and work on their projects in an environment that is both inspiring and supportive of both new and old technologies.”

Sinead very kindly referred me onto Jeffrey Roe who she felt might be able to help with this highly specialised job.

After initial e-mail communication with Jeffrey and post a meeting in town he kindly agreed to consult with us on this element of the project. Unfortunately as we only got to talk in November of last year the tree transpiration activity was nearly negligible. Jeffrey however persevered. Unfortunately to date we have been unable to successfully bring this element of the research to a point where it is possible to include in the exhibition.

Some of these timing issues became apparent early on in our collaboration I decided not to rely on this strand of research for the final exhibition.

As my renewed research into water retaining gel became more central to the project I remembered that one of the pieces I made for a group exhibition about water and surface tension in the Science Gallery in 2011. I developed a video piece which was the speeded up video recording of the physical transformation and the sound of the water retaining crystals changing from their crystaline form to the engorged gel format. Listening back to the sound track of this video and the snippets of the actual sound of water moving up a tree recorded by Alex Metcalf I felt they were similar.

As I have decided to use the water retaining gel as a central element to the upcoming performance and exhibition in Trinity College Dublin it seemed to fit that I repurpose the water retaining gel video soundtrack piece.

More information to follow nearer the time of the performance….

Edible water balls



A few months ago during a meeting with Conor Buckley we were talking again about bio plastics, their applications and how we might use this material in a different way to make an artwork.

At the moment because of the make up of the bio plastic and the fact that it creates a shiny surface when dry it can not be layered on top of itself, the layers stay separate.


We talked about how he and TCD students are working with spray painting guns to spray the materials they are working with over the surface of the medical device or scaffold depending on what they are trying to achieve. He suggested that I take a look at this methodology in the development of the artworks for the 2019 exhibition. We have yet to fix on a date to start this process but I look forward to trying it out even if I will be unable to use it in this exhibition….food for thought for future projects and exhibitions.

As our project had also moved its focus to water another really interesting suggestion Conor made during this meeting was that I check out a newish phenomenon – edible water balls.

water balls

We had some interesting thoughts on how we might make some of these water balls and embed some of the plant material from the fallen Oregon Maples inside. I compiled many tests with the different forms of algae that I had been using to create the bio plastic. I crushed up calcium tablets to use in these tests….none were successful. Finally I had to turn back to Conor to see if he could source the correct alginate material for me. As always Conor came up trumps. I will post some of the image from these tests at a later stage.  Again I hope that I will get some interesting test results ready for the upcoming exhibition….

A water ball is a biodegradable and natural membrane which can be fully swallowed and digested, as well as hydrating people in the same way as drinking water. The product is made from a seaweed extract and is tasteless, although flavours can be added to it


To follow for your information is a brief explanation of edible water balls are and an interesting article written by A. Naresh Kumar and published online on a website entitled Science India.

“Water is one of the precious compounds on Earth. Availability of pure drinking water for human consumption is inevitable. Currently, major fraction of drinking water is supplied though various non-biodegradable packaged materials. However, use of non-biodegradable plastics for packaging is resulting in generating of huge quantities of waste. Alternatively, biodegradable (eco friendly) water packing materials can be considered as a solution.

Edible water balls, which are eco-friendly, can replace these millions of plastic bottles. These biodegradable water balls are composed of algae (sea weed) and are edible materials. The preparation of edible water balls is very easy, and can be prepared at home. The preparation involves mixing of sodium alginate and calcium lactate with drinking water. This forms a gelatinous membrane structure and retains the drinking water in the middle of a gelatinous structure. Sodium alginate (NaAlg) coagulates when exposed to calcium chloride (CaCl2) and forms calcium alginate (CaAlg2 ) and sodium chloride (NaCl), according to the following reaction Eq.(1). The prepared calcium alginate ball with water is considered as a refreshing edible water drink and does not require a separate vessel like a bottle or a cup to hold water.

2NaAlg + CaCl2 –> CaAlg2 + 2NaCl… Eq.1

Alginates are natural products of brown algae, and have been widely used in wound dressing, drug delivery, food applications etc. In addition, calcium is a necessary element for regular functions of human body as it also helps in bone formation and maintenance. Moreover, biocompatibility of alginate gels have been studied extensively and their safety for consumption is well established. As natural polysaccharides resistant to breakdown by human digestive enzymes, alginates are classified as dietary fiber.

Currently, the edible water container is not available commercially, although the developers are working to bring it to market. The prototypes have been tested in several markets and certain limitations are associated to reach the market. Majorly, thin membrane is not strong enough to withstand shipping and handling on a large scale. This product is named “Ooho” the edible bottle, by the Skipping Rocks Lab, a startup based in London. Water drinks on the go is the major advantage of these edible balls. In addition, these water balls are ecofriendly and serve as an alternative to plastic bottles. Drinking water from inside a soft edible membrane made from natural seaweed extract is considered as a sustainable product in the long run.”

Author:A.Naresh Kumar, CSIR-Senior Research Fellow, CEEFF, CSIR-IICT.