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…..

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.