This Monday, Barbara Beisinghoff, Vassar’s current artist-in-residence, began working on her Tree Poetry project in the sculpture garden of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.
Back in 2004, the graphic artist, well known for her works on paper, was asked to undertake a project that could be displayed outdoors, and came up with the idea of tree poetry, or as she calls it, POETREE. This unique project involves selecting short lines of poetry and displaying them on the surface of a tree.
For her current task, Beisinghoff chose to exhibit phrases from a series of poems written by the well-known German poet and translator, Paul Celan. Since World War II, Celan’s works have become an important part of German culture, and are still taught in schools today.
The process of making Tree Poetry begins with choosing a stencil with one of Celan’s quotes on it. This stencil is then placed into a framed silk screen and dipped into a tub filled with water and white cotton fibers. Once the silk screen is gently pulled out of the water, it is then swayed from side to side allowing the water to wash away and the fibers to settle on the part of the stencil with the letters. Finally, the stencil is removed from the silk screen and pressed onto the surface of the tree.
The process of transferring the letters from the stencil to the tree requires skill and a great deal of patience, especially when working with smaller letters. According to Beisinghoff, the best way to transfer the letters onto the tree is to press on them gently, with love. Once the letters are peeled off of the stencil, the chemical structure of the cotton fibers allows them to “grab on” to and stick to the surface of the tree.
Since the surface of the tree in the sculpture garden is not particularly smooth, and because wet fibers are difficult to work with, some of the letters were not transferred to the tree. According to Beisinghoff, however, this is part of the process. She explained that some quotes would not be able to be read entirely from one viewpoint, but viewers can look them on another part of the tree and try to piece them together. She also noted that eventually, some of the letters might wash away due to the weather and other environmental factors, but because they had once occupied a particular part of the tree they have made their impact.
Beisinghoff, along with her assistants from various departments, including German, History, Art, and Biology, finished the Tree Poetry project Monday afternoon. The final project is displayed below.
Beisinghoff spent the latter half of the week working on a similar project with one of the trees on the library lawn. For this piece, she used letters made from pink as well as white cotton fibers. When asked about the choice of using the bright pink, Beisinghoff commented on the contrast between the serious content of the verses themselves as opposed to the bright, cheerful hue of the fibers. She was pleased to find out later that pink was one of Vassar’s original school colors, reaffirming her believe that pink was the best color for this project.
Be sure to check out these two POETREE projects, either when you’re walking to the library or strolling through the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. Stay tuned for more exciting upcoming events tied to Beisinghoff’s residency, including the Opening Reception for her exhibition in the Loeb Art Center on Thursday, September 29 at 5pm.
(Edited by Kayla Schwab)