Feral Trees

Meet the Tree of Heaven.

A multimedia piece developed for public installation in the Harvard Art Museum’s Lightbox Gallery (screening on a large, multi-panel display in a small sound space).

metaLAB has produced a number of different interactive data and multimedia experiences for the Lightbox Gallery. Video by Cristoforo.

Feral Trees is a project stemming from the interests of Cristoforo’s metaLAB colleagues Matthew Battles & Kyle Parry in Ailanthus altissima, a tree species alternatively known as the “Tree of Heaven,” or “Devil’s Bush” by the farmers who have tried to combat it. Combat is the operative word, because as an invasive species, originally from China, whose key survival advantage is rooted in how it seemingly grows through any obstacle—be it the sheet metal and loose trash of the Busybrook Meadow’s former station as landfill, or the water pipes, pavement, and fences it encounters in the urban wild.

An investigation drawing from ailanthus’ invasion of poetry and literature as well as the Boston-area, this short piece explores the tree’s life as invader, organism, and citizen as both an entity with a singular life and a plural community spanning into every nook and cranny it can find.

Coupled with videography taken by Cristoforo including efforts to stage GoPros inventively (with a hoisted canopy rig among other methods), the piece also features photographs by Sarah Newman that speed by with the stream of consciousness that her lens took her through in her own personal exploration of ailanthus throughout the seasons.

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