Heavy Trees

Made by Kai Kuehner, klxia, Joyce Chen and Mimi Niou

Forest in Hunt Library that invites visitors to leave their thoughts on it.

Created: October 19th, 2016



This installation asks viewers to reflect on their mental state and share what "grounds them". They do this by writing it on a paper, then hanging it on a wire branch of a fake tree. This encourages reflection and introspection. The goal is for viewers to take a pause and think about themselves before writing their thoughts down and sharing them anonymously. As they do this, the branches get weighted down, themselves becoming more "grounded". To draw in participants, we played nature sounds from a speaker at the base of the staircase, so that the sounds would echo throughout the entire stairwell, and make passers stop to question where the sounds are coming from and hopefully interact with our installation. 



Wish Tree- Yoko Ono http://www.a-i-u.net/wishtree2.html

Our project is similar to this piece where Yoko Ono invites participants to write a wish on a tag and hang it on a tree. Unlike ours, Ono uses real trees for this purpose. Ono also has a different message, with hers being one of wishing and hopefulness and ours being reflection and groundedness. A picture from Yoko Ono's wish tree is shown below, with countless different tags hanging off the tree's leaves. 

Wire Tree- Polina https://www.etsy.com/listing/45245511/wire-tree-silver-plated-copper-wire 

These show how wire can be used to imitate tree branches, and are structurally similar to our trees. They inspired some structural aspects of out project, although ours also incorporate branches whereas Polina's are completely wire. An example of this wire tree is shown below. Our product differed very much from this smaller tree, especially in that our "trunk" was taken directly from real trees outside, but we kept the idea of having curvy wire branches.

Interactive and Participatory Art-  Meg Floryan http://blog.art21.org/2010/06/03/interactive-and-participatory-art/ 

Floryan provides an overview of the modes of participatory art, and plenty of examples of ways that the audience can be involved in a piece. This is great inspiration when brainstorming ideas. Adding to the interactivity aspect, we also looked to Chris Milk's The Wilderness Machine as a source of inspiration. In this installation, users also wrote notes that were taken and transcribed by a machine, meant as postcards written to people's younger selves.

Additionally, we also looked at installations such as Jenny Holzer's projections, Random International's temporary graffitti, and Kimchi and Chip's projections on paper, as we were brainstorming for our project.



Initially, we considered doing 2D paper trees attached to the wall. We decided that this would not create enough of a space, and moved to 3D trees instead. We tried using wooden planks for a trunk, but they were not long enough and looked unnatural. We moved to branches found in the park, which were a much better fit. We tried many different methods of weighting the notecards down, but eventually decided they were heavy enough on their own and did not need to be weighted further.

We also had to make several decisions about how to best interact with our space. One of our priorities was keeping our installation unobtrusive and making sure it stayed out of anyone's walking path. We positioned and chose our trees to be within reaching distance of students leaving notes, but we also worried about students walking into these branches as they were going up and down the stairs. We ended up bending and arranging the wires so that they curved more around the railing and open space of the staircase, and we curled the ends inwards so that the wire end wouldn't poke anyone walking by.

We chose our audio track to fit with our theme of a forest, and to create a calming experience that would call for reflection and serenity. However, we realized that the sound could serve a second purpose: to have people stop and notice the installation. Thus, rather than simply playing a static background noise, we chose a track interspersed with bird calls. The rustling of the trees and other forest ambience provided a soft background, while the sharper, higher pitched bird calls called attention. We played the track from a speaker at the bottom of the staircase

Making hanging cards for users to write on
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Collecting branches
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Testing the first branch
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Covering the branch bases with butcher paper
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The final product is a set of three "trees" consisting of a branch with wires on them attached to the stairwell. People walking past can pick up a notecard, write something on it with marker, and hang it on one of the wires. This causes the wire to bend down. The branches are attached to the railing posts with tape, but it is covered up with paper to look more natural. There is also a speaker nearby that plays forest sounds.

Heavy Trees
Joyce Chen - https://vimeo.com/189867826


We thought the project overall did what we intended, and effectively created a space that felt separate from the rest of the library. The notecards, wires, and branches all fit together and did not clash aesthetically with the handrail and staircase. The idea of branches being weighted down is central to the piece, though it would not be a clearly evident theme without the audience reading the description of our installation on the wall. As far as making sure the installation was not too obtrusive in people's paths, our final result turned out well.

We did our best with the materials available to us, but some of our aesthetic appeal could have been improved (for example, how we attached the branches to the staircase and how we facilitated the transition between railing post and branch). The space was also very heavily occupied with the lightbulb project, which we did our best to work around. 

After discussion, we agreed that the installation does accomplish the barebones of our artistic goal. With Thanksgiving around the corner, we thought the installation really did let people stop and consider what they are thankful for and keeps them grounded, while also providing an aesthetically pleasing experience. While the physical installation itself is not a full installation, we thought it was a good start.



Though we originally had reservations about what we could create with no budget, we were able to think creatively and use basic materials to execute our ideas. We also learned that it can be very difficult reconciling everyone's different ideas together to make one, unified project. Overall we think that we worked effectively as a team and were able to accomplish a lot together. In addition, we got valuable experience with creating an installation that is both interactive and unobtrusive to other students simply walking by on their way to class.



We saw a few people interact with our installation, and many passersby found it entertaining but did not stop. We never saw any instances of our project (tree trunks or wires especially) interfering with anyone on their way to class, which confirmed that the installation was not disruptive to users of the library.

Both as we were setting up the project and throughout the day of the exhibit, many curious students walked by and asked about our project. They all seemed interested, but without the time to stop and participate. 

When I came back to the installation in the evening after our class, I actually saw many new notecards that had been put up by students throughout the day, so we definitely had a good number of students interact with our project. I noticed that one of the cards had some random math formulas scribbled on it, so perhaps our project was not always taken as seriously by students, but the response and interaction overall was encouraging. 


 Next Steps

Some future ideas for the project are to make it more interactive, such as by changing the sounds when more cards are hanging on the trees, or to augment the visuals with projection on the trees. We really wanted to create an immersive experience, and while our trees/sound did a good job at creating that, some experimentation with lights or projection would add much more to the level of immersion. In addition, our main focus was making the significance of each notecard very tangible, and adding sound/visual changes upon the hanging of each notecard would help us achieve that goal.  

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62-150 Intro to Media Synthesis and Analysis

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New creative industries are empowering new modes of collaborative consumption, creation and reuse of media. This often relies on successful collaborations between cross-trained artists, designers a...more


Forest in Hunt Library that invites visitors to leave their thoughts on it.