2018/19 Trinity College Trees Project

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Early in January of this year the Trinity College Trees team (Taylor, Hackett and Hassett) in conjunction with Colin Reid and Dr. Conor Buckley of TCD initiated an ambitious new study on the two large Oregon Maple trees in main College Square.  Both sibling trees were estimated to be over 170 years old and were reported to be suffering some difficulties with fungal infection and lack of adequate water to support their huge structure. 

This 2018 project proposed to build on the research and success of their 2017 project, while focusing on the conservation research and efforts to keep these trees healthy.

During the initial phase of the project the team took more scanning electron microscopic images of the Oregon Maples.  Their aim was to make visible fascinating microscopic elements of these two majestic trees. This allowed for an unique way of viewing and engaging with the trees and their conservation in a busy urban setting.  The team were pleased with the results and over the next few months Hassett devised a plan to create a series of site specific art works to install in both Oregon Maples.  The exhibition and series of performance art works were due to launch during September 2018.

Unfortunately in early June 2018 one of 170 year old majestic Oregon Maples collapsed, splitting into many pieces on the lawn of Main square.  The second sister Oregon Maple tree had to be felled two months later over rising public safety concerns.  It was a very emotional time for staff, students, past pupils and the general public as these two trees had been a very important part of the fabric of Trinity College life for such a long period of time.  

The sudden absence of the two trees left the team at a loss on how to proceed with the project.  Following on from the trees demise the team spent a few months investigating what happened all of a sudden that made the them become so unstable and finally leading one to collapse.  In fact tree surveys taken about a year before showed that the trees were in trouble but not critically so.

Various samples were taken from the remains of the two majestic but fragile Oregon Maple Trees in College Square.  The team sought to explore the structural integrity of the wood samples. After reviewing the scientific and conservations reports it was concluded that both trees just didn’t have enough water in their systems to keep them upright.  They had become so brittle and lacking in water that many of the bolts of the cable bracing system helping to support them had pulled through the thick limbs.  

After a thought provoking collaborative conversation with David Hackett we realised that the two children trees, descendant from the fallen trees and also sited on campus, were also suffering, although to a lesser extent, of drought.  The team decided to re-focus the direction of the project onto the two remaining Oregon Maples in Trinity College Dublin.  They have also narrowed their focus of exploration to the scientific and conservation research and possible future outcomes of the lack of sufficient water in the Oregon Maples of Trinity College Dublin.  

After successfully getting an extension to the project deadline they now plan to launch in Spring 2019.  Proposed artistic responses will include a months display of new artworks installed in both trees, a series of live performances and indoor exhibition on the TCD campus.

Current artistic inspirations include collaborative work on a bio-plastic art material with Conor Buckley and the development of a device that will be able to record the inner sounds of the Oregon Maples drinking water in conjunction with Jeffrey Roe. Other work in progress include the development of drawings on hand made paper using materials gathered from the fallen trees.

2016/17 Trinity College Trees Project

Trinity Trees Team 2 at PROBE at TCD

The 2016/17 Trinity College Trees Project, Making Visible the Invisible, celebrated scientific, conservation and artistic research into the physiology of eight trees situated on the main campus of Trinity College Dublin.

Over a period of eighteen months TCD staff  Professor David Taylor,  David Hackett,  Clodagh Dooley and Olivia Hassett meet regularly to collaborate on this ambitious project. Two sets of Scanning Electron microscopic sampling and imaging were undertaken to reflect the changing seasons and conditions during the project.

In response to the collaborative research and microscopic imagery collected the artist created a series of site specific innovative art works, which were installed in the eight trees throughout the campus. A series of performances by Hassett with the Oregon Maple in the main square formed part of PROBE European Researchers night event September 29th 2017 launching the exhibition to much acclaim.

The Trinity College Trees exhibition was supported by a series of guided walks while also offering a self guided walk and supporting audio piece detailing information on each tree and the inspiration behind the installed artworks.

This blog outlines the project background information, research and inspiration behind these works.

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Reintroducing David Hackett

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David Hackett first qualified in amenity Horticulture in 1979 and 1980 through the National Botanic gardens , Glasnevin , Dublin and the RHS. He also holds various work associated qualifications eg. Chainsaw certified, telescopic handler certified.

In 2006 he was awarded advanced qualifications with the Royal Horticultural society .

His specialism is in turf culture [Grass] and trees and he currently hold a tree risk assessment from the International Society of Arborists.

Employment has range from working in garden centres, commercial fruit and vegetable production, indoor pot plant production and for the Parks department of Dun Laoghaire corporation for thirteen years. He has been employed on the Trinity College grounds staff for the past twenty four years.

He is one of the editors of the Trees of Trinity College Dublin publication: ISBN 978-1871408737

Installed artworks: Day 7 – The Cherry Blossom Tree


IMAG5139David Hackett talking about the installed Cherry Blossom Tree artwork during the guided walk in September 2017

Most of the varieties of Cherry Blossoms have been cultivated for ornamental use and do not produce fruit. Along with the chrysanthemum, the cherry blossom is considered the national flower of Japan. Again the microscopic worlds of the trees form the backbone of this artwork. Hassett’s focus on scale and miniaturisation led her research to the arts forms of the Japanese Bonsai and Chinese Penjing.  See below some of the SEM images taken from the Cherry Blossom Tree.

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For this artwork Hassett chose to focus on the reproductive system of the Cherry Blossom, specifically the pollen grains. Pollen grains carry the male reproductive information and are unique in shape and pattering depending on the species.  See below SEM imagery taken by Clodagh Dooley of the  groups of and individual pollen grains.

In a nod to the millions of identical pollen grains to be found on the Cherry Blossom Hassett decided to create an artwork using multiples of the same material. Hundreds of recycled plastic net plant drainers were manipulated and grouped together not unlike how the the bonsai control and force huge number of flowers together to shape blocks of colour.

Alongside the white plastic netting Hassett also used neon pink and green wired Lycra netting for this artwork.  A huge thank you to Recreate who salvage large quantities of reusable materials from businesses for use in creative projects.  See images below of the installed artwork.

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Installing in the Oregon Maple, part 1

The next stage in the artwork process was to decide where in the tree to install and how long each section of fabric needed to be. David Hackett kindly booked and organised getting the large and cumbersome scissors lift to the Oregon Maple on the morning of the 14th of September.

It would have been great if it were possible to continue using the scissors lift that day and finally install all the ‘tendons’ but unfortunately I had so much cutting of fabric to get the desired shape, sewing of the edges and inserting the eyelet fixing points that David will have to roll out all the equipment again for the final stage.

So on a windy sunny morning and on the same day that American Vice President Mike Pence visited Trinity College Dublin David Hackett and his team maneuvered the large scissors lift into position. Ironically we were up in the scissors lift when the Vice President visited the main square nearby.

See images from top of the tree looking down on the main square.

Before we could begin large boards had to be laid down on the grass to protect it from being damaged by the wheels of the lift.

See images of scissors lift preparation

As soon as all the preparation was completed David promptly buckled me into a harness system and up we went! I am not afraid of heights but it was still a nerve wrecking experience all the same. It takes a lot of skill and experience to get the cherry picker to the highest parts of the huge Oregon Maple, thankfully David is a great driver!

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See images of the tree as I was looking down at it from the topmost branches.  

For what happened next see the blog entitled Installing in the Oregon Maple, part 2.