Alastair R. Noble – These Trees Shall be my Books

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My artistic practice is a response to literature and the natural environment, in the last ten years I have engaged trees as a medium to interweave passages from literature in the land, some of the authors include: Blake, Wittgenstein, Mallarmé, Mayakovsky, Borges, Daumal and Nietzsche.

In this context, in August 2016 I completed in collaboration with Kathy Bruce a land art sculpture at the Hobro Gas Museum for the Land-Shape Project sponsored by the Mariagerfjord Municipality, Upper Jutland, Denmark. This environmental sculpture took the form of a poetic text fashioned from twisted willow branches, each letter standing about 80” high by 40” wide anchored along a spiraling earth mound forming a Fibonacci spiral in the courtyard of the museum. This spiraling structure follows that of the poem Alphabet (1981) by Danish poet Inger Christensen, a provocative poem that exposes the plight of the environment. Additionally, I transposed the same text into a series of 23 monotype prints that were exhibited in the museum and acquired by the Hobro city art gallery.

“As you like it” by Shakespeare triggered the installation “These Trees Shall be my Books ” from 2014. Each word flows from one to the other and consists of interwoven branches of various tree species including: willow, dogwood and birch, all supplied by the College campus community. The 12’ high texts were fashioned out of branches forming a spiral, sited on the campus grounds of Pennsylvania College of Technology. At the core of the spiral a log bench displays the next line of the play, And in their barks my thoughts. Many college students assisted with the installation along with the collaboration of my wife Kathy Bruce. This was commissioned by the college to coincide with their centennial celebrations.

In 2014 I produced a series of log sculptures during a residency at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park Woodstock Vermont. Where I carved with a chain saw a series of logs 10-15’ long cut lengthways on a contour, the surfaces were routed with quotes from writers each word was filled with growing moss. The texts such as Off the earth’s long contour the river –veins by Seamus Heaney were chosen to activate the viewer’s relationship with the environment. These were sited throughout the park by the park rangers. At the same time I had an exhibition in a local gallery that reflect upon my residency with an artist’s book MOMENT printed with poetry along with cyanotype prints. The K2 Family Foundation sponsored both this book and residency.

Another ambitious project “Mapping Arcadia: Isle Martin and a Topograhy of Place” took place on a small island off the NW coast of Scotland UK. Where, I planted 200 rowan trees in a clearing 35 square meters, their placement traced out the topographical contours of the island. This will grow as a canopy of red-berried rowan trees in the shape of the island. The rowan was chosen in view of its mythological significance to Scottish Gaelic folklore. Dundee University Scotland produced a limited edition artist’s box set with silkscreen maps prints, a BBC film documenting this scheme and included a book with essay by Marina Warner. Grants from The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Scottish Natural Heritage supported that project and publication.

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