There is a unique and thought-provoking art installation going on at Governors Island right now called Treetones. Governors Island is a fitting place for a show using trees. Native Americans called the island Pagannack, which was a reference to the abundant chestnut trees that then covered the island. The artist of Treetones is Jenna Spevack, who generously sat down and answered a few questions.
The Strawfoot: What is Treetones?
Jenna Spevack: Treetones, is a site-specific installation on Governors Island. Hand-sewn fabric wraps, made from tree rubbings, are tied to 12 different trees on the Island. Visitors are guided by a self-directed tour map to locate and identify the trees. They may also collect bark rubbings from each stop on the tour. Highlighted species include American Elm, Red Oak, Norway Maple, Horse Chestnut and London Plane.
What was the inspiration for the installation?
I started my residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space on Governors Island in March, before the trees started to leaf out. I had visited the Island before, in the summer, but hadn’t really noticed the trees. The lack of leaves accentuated the impressive size and distinctive shapes of the tree trunks and branches. I kept coming back to older trees, in awe of the age and the variations in bark; much of it deeply fissured and rough. It struck in me a sense of mortality, of the history of the Island, of my own life. The project was a way of bringing awareness to the trees and recognizing their endurance and strength.
How did you choose the trees?
I spent a lot of time at the start of my residency walking and biking the island, because I was doing research for another project, Overtones. I created maps of my walks and rides- identifying interesting routes and areas. I was drawn to the larger, older trees and was fascinated by bark. I started by making bark rubbings and discovered that subtle and not so subtle differences appeared in the rubbings. I then looked up the descriptions of the bark in tree identification books and loved the poetic descriptions, many reflecting on how the age of the tree changed or enhanced the appearance of the bark. For me, the character and attitude of the tree was defined by these visual and physical textures. In the end, I chose the trees for the project for their bark and for their locations around the Island.
This is a faraway photograph of the Honey Locust one sees directly above this image.
What was the process of making the wraps?
I experimented with several different types of fabric and forms. I started with very simple muslin fabric wraps and then tried much louder sequined fabric flags. In the end I found something in the middle. I created bark rubbings on strips taffeta-type fabric using gravestone rubbing wax and then sewed them into bright orange sashes to draw attention to the trees. I created small pockets in each sash to hold the paper “give-away” rubbings. These tokens include a rubbing of that particular tree, the name of the tree and a short description of the bark.
Part of the experience of making the wraps was figuring out how to create a participatory installation for the visitors. The addition of the rubbings came about somewhat by accident while experimenting sewing. I like it when the act of making informs the final conceptual aspect of the project.
Yellow ribbons are a thoughtful detail.
Have you done similar installations in the past. or is this a new direction for you?
Yes, I have completed similar public art and participatory installations.
“Birds of Brooklyn,” is an on-going, community-based audio artwork that brings the sounds of Brooklyn’s endangered and bygone birds to sites around the Borough to reconnect city dwellers with the natural sounds of the area and raise awareness about declining bird populations in urban environments. It was exhibited as a special project installation at the Pulse Miami / Art Basel art fair and is currently installed in locations in Brooklyn. [ BirdsOfBrooklyn.org ]
“Inside Out House,” a binaural audio installation embedded with sounds recorded in woodland and quiet agricultural landscapes. Using simulated blindness to enhance the aural sense, the project aims to mimic the restorative experience of being outside in nature using auditory stimuli. Viewers are invited to enter into the darkened structure and visualize their experience by contributing a drawing to the installation. It was exhibited at the BRIC Biennial and at CR10 Gallery in Hudson, NY. jennaspevack.com/insideout
Other participatory and public art projects can be viewed on jennspevack.com.
What is you next project?
I’m working on a public audio installation, Overtones, that aims to create aural connections to natural environments through the harmonic tones generated by wind harps discreetly installed in trees and abandoned buildings. I started research for this project while at my residency on Governors Island. More information: jennaspevack.com/overtones
When and how can people see Treetones?
Treetones is installed on Governors Island until June 30th.
For more information: govisland.com/exhibitions/treetones