The Illuminative Forest of Storytelling Trees was created by Deb Cripps & Carl Hiebert and is a full sensory interactive mobile forest combining visual arts, music, technology, storytelling. It is a gift to celebrate Canada’s 150th!
Imagine walking through a forest where trees introduce themselves with a desire to be intimately engaged. It is a full-sensory experience where you are surrounded by seventeen, 8ft. artistically engineered trees. Forest music incorporating sounds of nature plays as you approach the trees and are invited to read (or listen by pointing your device/cell phone) as they eagerly share their individual stories.
The forest is alive with 17 stories and 17 originally scored soundscapes. “Humour Tree” makes you laugh, “Identity Tree” makes you think, “Engineering the Future Tree” story has an intriguing story of community and technology, and “Do you live on my block? Tree” has gossip to share. You’ll meet the wise “Elder Tree” who is the oldest tree in the forest, and bask in the beauty of the “Four Seasons of Canada Trees.”
As you wander through this forest of trees who share intimate, meaningful stories about themselves and their journeys, they ask you questions. It is a creative journey where you will hear trees speak with emotional needs, desires, dreams and challenges, that are similar to your own. You can visit the forest at THE MUSEUM until May 21st.
After opening night, I had the pleasure of speaking with assisting artist, Sentient Collective member, and forest curator, Nicole Battista.
1. Tell me about The Sentient Collective. How did it form and how long have you been together?
It was specifically formed around this project. Carl and Deb wanted to create a team that could cooperate and rally around the project and bring the resources they had to it. It is a relatively big project with various dimensions- visual, audio and story-telling, so suited a team with varied skills and experience. We knew most of the people previously or through mutual contacts. Things developed really quickly with the potential of the project, so we all just had to jump right into it.
2. You are one of the visual artists on three of the storytelling trees. How long did it take you to complete the pieces you worked on?
17 sculptures is a fairly ambitious number we had to accomplish over the period of less than a year. And the goal was to create a wide variety of forms that could be interpreted as trees, that might speak to viewers in a variety of ways.
My part as a visual artist in the project was somewhat of a sounding board and I helped with discovering new ways the trees could be represented. Sculpture wise, some of the pieces were already in evolution and a few pieces had already been made. As the pieces were coming together, we discussed them aesthetically, artistically and problem-solving technical aspects. Deb and Carl were the artistic directors so they were responsible for the overall thematic concepts behind the pieces.
3. On opening night, attendees were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their community experience. What kind of feedback have you been getting?
We hoped the Forest would inspire a thoughtful and introspective type of experience. It's when we don't have introspection and self-examination that we ignore anything that doesn't affect us directly. We want people to step outside of their bubble a bit, but in a way that plays with their imagination and senses, in a positive way.
Everyone who enters The Illuminative Forest is asked to engage and respond to questions relating to their sense of belonging within their community. The Forest offers "Belonging Barometer Questionnaires," in which visitors can respond to 4 questions.
We really wanted the overall experience of the installation to be enjoyable and we received many kind messages that we accomplished that. A few were:
"Very inspirational, spiritual, and metaphorical."
"Creative ideas - great execution. Very thought provoking!"
"I am grateful for your growing, your beauty, your honesty, your strangeness, and for the hope your presence inspired in me today.
4. How is that feedback going to be used?
The responses have been intriguing and enlightening, and the Forest will share the specifics of that organic data when it completes its tour within the City of Kitchener later this summer. We’ll be making it available to various community groups, to whom it may benefit. The interconnectedness or lack of, in communities and cities, is hugely important and is directly affected by and goes on to affect- so many layers of social issues. I think being conscious of how we as individuals, organizations, and governments can influence a change on that sense of belonging to a community in a positive way, is hugely important.
5. Have there been any overwhelming favourites out of the storytelling trees so far?
The questionnaire also asks visitors to indicate which trees made the most impact on them. "Elderly Tree," "Freedom Tree," "Resilience Tree," "Divine Touch Tree," and "Transformation Tree" seem to be some of the more popular trees so far.
You never know what people will gravitate towards. Sometimes it's the more subtle ones, but art is always that way. In art shows that I've done, you can have a million pieces on the wall and you think the biggest and brightest one will get all the attention, but then someone will walk by and they'll notice and remark on a more subtle piece that is less of an eye catcher.
That's one of my favourite aspects of art. Somewhere, some little part of that person's mind has connected with a little part of the artist’s mind, and that piece may get overlooked by a majority of people, but when that connection happens on an individual basis, it makes that even more special and is really rewarding as an artist.
Something in their brain is the same as my brain. I made this and you like it. That may be the only thing you have in common with that person, but you have that little something in common.
6. Has there been any interest so far from other communities that would like to host the exhibit?
I can't say too much about it now, but there has been interest. There is definitely the hope that the project will be a touring project. It’s scheduled to be installed in the Rotunda (Kitchener City Hall) after THE MUSEUM.
Have you been to the forest as yet? What were your favourites?
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Interview and photos by Glodeane Brown