For our final exhibition at 516 West 20th Street, Rachel Owens brings her signature process of casting shards of broken glass in resin to a little known yet seminal specimen of nature. The bulk of this mostly sculptural presentation is made from molds of the Alley Pond Giant, a 400-year-old tulip poplar tree located in Queens that could well pre-date European settlers. It is the oldest living thing in New York City. She renders strips of its husked skin in colored glass sourced from closeout bulk suppliers of mass produced bottles imported from China, a nod to the earliest large-scale production in colonial America (England’s strained forests could not sustain enough glass bottle kilns). The dimensions of each piece are limited by the reach of the artist herself, bringing a human scale to this monumental being. Owens states “The fortitude of the tree to withstand the development of modern society reminds us that there was always someone before and is also symbolic of migration, mothers, and spatial occupation.”
In addition to the prominent sculptural elements is an audio component consisting of the communication trees make when in need of water. Based on research by Dr. Peter Wohlleben and recordings by Dr. Alexandre Ponomarenko, the accompaniment is an endearing botanical telegraphy of awkwardly rhythmic knocks, plinks and plonks. Further reiterating a quietly maternal pulse underlying all we take for granted as a species, this poignant exploration pushes the installation toward a total work of art, as wall works on burned canvas with sloganeering as searing as WE ARE THE GRANDDAUGHTERS OF ALL HE WITCHES YOU WERE NEVER ABLE TO BURNand as pointed s the singular MOTHER.
Using sounds gathered by Dr. Alexander Ponomarenko of trees in distress, this 4 track sound work is a part of the installation MOTHER. Accompanying the sounds of a tree's own electronic impulses are the sounds of a busy highway, a thunderstorm and the faint chants of "this is what democracy looks like" recorded at the 2017 Women's March in NYC.