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.

Water retaining gel crystals – art material

The research focus of this project changed after the demise of the two majestic Oregon Maples in Library Square. Where the heartwood (the innermost part of the tree trunk) should have held up to about 80% water after testing the water content was estimated to be nearer 50%.

And so my artistic research expanded from the strength and stability of the trees, which was the primary focus for the Oregon Maple artwork for Trinity College 2017 exhibition. The 2017 piece focused on the cable bracing system and the internal cellular structure of the tree. The final artworks likened tendon-like structures using the lines of the cable system stretching between various limbs of one of the Oregon Maples.

Trinity College Trees Installation in Oregon Maple 1.jpg

Back to the 2018/19 project. Since the two older trees fell I have been focusing my art research on water. Having used water retaining gel in past artworks I again began to look at this interesting material as a suitable one for inclusion in the 2019 exhibition.

Normally this material is added to the soil around plants and trees during spells of dry weather. It comes in crystal format and after adding water it can expand and hold over 300/400 times its weight in water. Over time the gel loses this water gradually (watering the plants in the process) until all the water is gone and it again returns to it’s crystal form…until it rains again and the gel swells with water again. This process can be repeated numerous times. Manufacturers claim that these gels work for about three years.

gel & compost

In actual fact David Hackett during one of our meeting mentioned that this material might be one that they might need to consider going forward to ensure constant watering of trees during periods of low rainwater. He suggested that they would add the water retaining gel to the soil around targeted trees and that then they would add grey water (collected rain water run off from the buildings on campus) to the gel from time to time as necessary.

In the past I have incorporated water retaining gel into some of my indoor installations, subverting it’s purpose to suit a new function. I was particularly interested in how the engorged gel looked almost like chunks of glass yet also managed to be very visceral in how it felt and sounded when squished.

In one particular instance during 2011 for a group exhibition I constructed a raised walkway in a small intimate room in an abandoned building on Francis Street, Dublin 2. I covered this walkway in expanded water retaining gel and then walked really really slowly along its surface during a live performance. The audience were seated, their eye level at my foot height, the sight and sounds accentuated by their closeness and the intimate nature of the room.

For the purpose of the Trinity College Trees 2019 exhibition I will be using this material much more as it was intended to be used. It will form a large part of the opening live art performance and will remain as part of an outdoor installation throughout the duration of the exhibition.

I can’t say much more for now, but I will post images of the performance afterwards for those of you who won’t be able to be at the live event.

TCD search for replacements for fallen Oregon Maples

tcd OM fallen

During a recent computer search I came across this article written by Peter Kelly of Trinity News.  I thought it would be interesting to share it with you all.  I have included a few images that I thought might be relevant to the article. 

Trinity has begun its search for new Library Square trees to replace the Oregon maples previously in Library Square, according to Estates and Facilities. College hopes that any new tree will last for 100 to 150 years, and “look good too in that space over that time”.

The search for new trees comes in the wake of Library Square’s Oregon maple tree unexpectedly falling down earlier this summer. A second Oregon maple was removed shortly afterwards due to fears of it also falling.

Speaking to Trinity News, a spokesperson for Estates and Facilities explained that Trinity is “at the start of trying to look for replacements for the fallen trees”. It is currently unclear how long this process will take.

The first step in replacing the trees is to survey the underground area at the site of the fallen trees. According to Estates and Facilities, this investigation is taking place through the use of “ground penetrating radar”.

Estates and Facilities are considering the potential impact of climate change on any new trees, noting that they “needed to consider whether replanting with the same species as fell down (Oregon Maples) is the best choice or not as Dublin may become unsuitable as a habitat for that species”.

Should College decide to plant new Oregon maples, Estates and Facilities told Trinity News that they currently have a few small seedlings of the maples growing which may be suitable for use.

Following the collapse of College’s famous Oregon maple earlier this summer, College made the decision to cut down the second tree over fears of another collapse.

Speaking to Trinity News, Trinity’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Taylor explained that internal scanning of the trees a few weeks prior to the initial fall had revealed one of the trees “was getting hollow quite quickly.”

TCD OM fallen 2

The science of this is that basically a tree will fall if the stress in the wood gets too high, so the wood breaks,” Taylor explained. “That can happen to a normal tree if there’s a very bad storm, but if the wood in the tree is gradually getting weaker then you can reach a point where even a mild storm, or even just the weight of the tree itself, can be enough to cause the wood to fail and bring the whole thing down.”

Update on the trees of TCD

TCT book 1 lo res

If you are lucky to have a copy of the recently launched Trees of Trinity College Dublin (4th Edition) you will have access to the update on the TCD trees.  If you haven’t got a copy as yet I thought it might of interest to post an excerpt from the preface to the booklet written by Daniel L. Kelly and David Hackett, one of the Trinity College Trees team.


The TCD collection includes an eclectic mixture of species brought together from all parts of the world. The great majority are deciduous, their changing colours reflecting the rhythm of the seasons. The collection also includes a number of species native to ireland.

What all the trees have in common is that they survive in an urban, inner-city environment, in conditions that are by no means ideal for arboriculture. Although they tend to outlive us, trees are not timeless. In the seven years since the last edition of this booklet was published have seen dramatic changes.

The iconic pair of Oregon Maples in Library square were probably the oldest trees in the College; sadly, one fell suddenly in June 2008 and the other, weakened by fungal attack, had to be felled shortly afterwards.

Oregon Maple falls

Other trees have been lost due to storm damage and as a result of building and other developments.  In the same period, new trees have been planted, and earlier plantings have advanced towards maturity.

Plans for fresh plantings are in gestation. Air pollution has mercifully diminished in recent decades – the increasing diversity of lichens and moses on the trunks and branches is a testimony to this.

However, disturbing climatic trends are becoming evident, with increasing temperatures, greater incidence of drought and increasing frequency and intensity of storms.  Planting plans for the future must take these trends into account.”

Highlight – Museum Building, TCD

Museum building – Trinity College Dublin

The Trinity College Trees team are delighted to announce that a large part of the 2019 Trinity College Trees exhibition, The Oregon Maples, will be housed for the duration of the exhibition in the magnificent Museum Building on the main Trinity College Dublin campus.

We thought that this would be a good time to highlight the beauty and historical value of this building as an increadible art work in its own right.

We look forward to putting the final touches to the artworks, scientific and conservation research ready to be displayed there from April 1st.


To follow please find two links

The first will lead you to a website funded by the Irish Research Council New Horizons Interdisciplinary Research Project Award and dedicated to a detailed historical background, explanations and imagery of the architecture, sculpture and materials used to design and make this unique building.

Museum building image

The second link will bring you to a short video which includes 3d scans of the Museum Building.


Finally to follow is a copy of a Trinity College News article dated December 2018: to see this article in it’s original format visit:

The quarrymen, stonemasons and craftspeople who cut, carved and constructed Ireland’s splendid Victorian buildings have been long lost to history, overshadowed by the architects and patrons who designed and commissioned them. Today however, Trinity College Dublin is launching a ground-breaking research project which will illuminate the hidden history of one of Dublin’s most iconic Victorian buildings.

For the last two years the ‘Making Victorian Dublin’ project, funded by the Irish Research Council, has dissected and analysed Trinity’s Museum Building — regarded as one of the finest and most influential examples of Victorian architecture. Built in the 1850s, the building has been home to the college’s Departments of Engineering, Geology and Geography for almost 160 years. The building was pioneering in its patriotic use of Irish marble and decorative stone and established a taste for Connemara marble and Cork Red limestone which spread across Ireland to Britain, the United States and even as far as Cape Town in South Africa.

To mark the launch of the project today, a new interactive website ( allows the public to explore and navigate a 3-D digital scan of the splendid building. Users worldwide will be able to admire the splendid double-domed main hallway, the richly decorated interior carvings and 32 spectacular columns of coloured Irish stone.

The website also showcases new and exciting findings on the architecture, materials and sculptures of the building conducted by researchers from the Department of Geology and the Department of History of Art and Architecture. The team’s research, involving building surveys, extensive archival research and quarry visits, has led to new insights into the pioneering role of the Museum Building in the employment of Irish decorative stone and new understandings of the industry which sourced, supplied and crafted this stone.

Christine Casey, Professor in Architectural History, commented: “Too often we remember those who paid for these buildings and those who designed them. Architectural history is strong on telling the story of the patrons and architects and weak on those who translated design and ambition into reality. Ireland’s historic buildings were created by generations of craftsmen from raw materials extracted and cut by quarrymen and stone carvers. This project has sought to illuminate this largely hidden history by foregrounding the history of building materials and craftsmanship.”

Patrick Wyse Jackson, Associate Professor of Geology, added: “Built at the start of the golden age of Ireland’s decorative stone industry, Trinity’s Museum Building set out to showcase the extraordinary potential of Irish decorative stone. Featuring stone from right across the country the building is an Irish geology lesson in itself — in a few strides a visitor can encounter stone from the length and breadth of the country. The dominant use of Irish stone and the depiction of native Irish plants and animals in the building’s carvings were in keeping with a post-famine drive to promote and exploit Ireland’s natural resources through various Great Exhibitions and the newly launched ordnance and geological surveys.”

Website highlights:

  • Navigate and explore the main Museum Building with an interactive 3-D scan and admire up close the work of quarrymen, stone masons, and builders.

  • Find out about the 22 different stone types used in the construction of the building — 13 of which are Irish, coming from quarries across the country.

  • Learn about the remarkable networks of quarries, craft communities and transport routes linked to the construction of the Museum Building.

  • Watch a short film which charts the journey of massive blocks of Connemara marble from quarries in the west of Ireland, up through the River Shannon to a marble works in Killaloe, where they were transformed into columns, and onwards by barge to Dublin.

  • Learn about a range of new sources for some of the building’s striking architectural details which have been traced to buildings in Italy, Spain and the Middle East.

  • Admire the multitude of native Irish plants and animals identified by the team which feature in the building’s beautiful internal and external carvings.

  • Learn about how the building was constructed and how ornamental stone was used in load bearing columns for the first time in a building in Ireland and Britain.

  • Meet the remarkable O’Shea brothers who carved the building’s superb stone carvings and how they were given the freedom to design these carvings themselves — a revolutionary idea at the time.

More about the Museum Building:

The Museum Building of Trinity College Dublin (1853-7), by Cork architects Deane, Son & Woodward, is a seminal work of Ruskinian Gothic architecture, influencing a generation of British and Irish architects, and revolutionising Victorian architectural taste. Central to the architects’ design was a radical endorsement of the creative power of individual human happiness. Adopting an aesthetic first articulated by England’s pre-eminent art critic John Ruskin, the architects encouraged the freedom of their workmen in designing and executing the building’s external and internal carvings. The building was also pioneering in how it showcased a range of Irish stone and utilised them for structural load-bearing columns for the first time in a building in Ireland or Britain. Constructed as a School of Engineering to house lecture theatres, staff accommodation and two museums — one of engineering models and one of geological specimens — today the building is home to the disciplines of Geology, Geography and Civil Engineering.

More about ‘Making Victorian Dublin’:

In January 2017 an interdisciplinary project, Making Victorian Dublin, was initiated by Trinity College Dublin’s Department of History of Art and Architecture and Department of Geology, examining the relationship of architect and craftsman and the role of materials in the delivery of the University’s Museum Building. The collaborative project explores the pioneering role of the Museum Building in the employment of Irish ‘marble’ and the industry which sourced, supplied and crafted the stone. This project is funded by the Irish Research Council New Horizons Interdisciplinary Research Project Award.

museum building TCD

2019 Exhibition dates confirmed

It is official after a delay of nearly seven months the Trinity College Trees team are happy to announce that they are ready to put on display the fruits of their scientific, artistic and conservation work over the last eighteen months.

The re-scheduled Trinity College Trees Exhibition will be open to the public from April 1st to May 3rd 2019.

Exhibition plans include an outdoor installation and performance involving the Oregon Maple tree embedded in the Parsons building extension. Indoor exhibitions will take place in the reception area of the Parsons building and the entrance area of the Museum building, both situated on the main Trinity College Dublin campus.

The exhibition will comprise of a mix of art works, scientific and conservation research and information about the Oregon Maples of TCD.

We will post further information pertaining to the exhibition nearer the time.

David Taylor, David Hackett and I would like to thank Trinity College Dublin for their support funding this project and for granting us an extension when we had to change our research focus due to the demise in 2018 of the two iconic Oregon Maples in Library Square.