A new exhibition at the Moss Arts Center in Blacksburg pays tribute to one of the Earth’s most common and more important life forms. As curator-at-large Margo Ann Crutchfield put it, “Trees matter.”
“Arboreal,” on display in all of the center’s galleries through March 23, addresses the topic of trees — “Majestic, sustaining, enduring but increasingly vulnerable,” as Crutchfield describes them — using photography, video, ceramics, steel sculpture and even paper towel rolls. The 15 participating artists hail from as close as Roanoke and as far away as Australia.
“Each of these artists take the imagery of a tree as a symbol of many other different ideas,” Crutchfield said. “They’re profound. It ranges from the dichotomy between violence and beauty, to meditations on time and history, memory and loss.”
Crutchfield said that when putting together exhibitions, she frequently poses the question, “What’s going to mean something to our community? What’s going to mean something to where we live?” The prevalence of forest land in Southwest Virginia dovetailed with the importance of trees to ecology to inspire “Arboreal.”
Regional artists featured include Roanoke photographers Sam Krisch and Michele Sons. Both provide images of trees in winter, Krisch’s taken in Hokkaido, Japan, Sons’ shot in Appalachia. Crutchfield praised the beauty captured in their images and noted that Sons, a relative newcomer to the Southwest Virginia art scene, “has more work in the show than anyone else.”
“It was thrilling, validating, and humbling to see my work presented so beautifully,” Sons wrote.
Floyd-based artist Tom Nakashima provides elaborate images of downed trees in piles, a comment on the chaos that results when humankind encroaches on nature.
“One of the artists deals with landscape as a witness to Southern history, everything from the Civil War and servitude, the land and these trees having witnessed that horrific past,” Crutchfield said, referring to the silver gelatin prints made by North Carolina artist Linda Foard Roberts. “How do you reconcile that with what has come since?”
Another North Carolina-based artist, Eric Serritella, contributes pieces that look like logs and branches, that are so hyper-realistic that it’s startling to learn that they are ceramic sculptures.
As for the aforementioned paper towel rolls, those are delicately hand cut by New York-based Japanese artist Yuken Teruya. “What’s fascinating about them is not only the intricacy of them but the shadows that come into play,” Crutchfield said. “That is even more prominent in the paper bag pieces.” Teruya also cuts these elaborate tree shapes out of designer bags, such as a Prada bag, because “he’s making a comment about our throwaway culture and how things are not treasured.”
Other works come from Israeli artist Ori Gersht, whose photography and video work in Palestine and Ukraine reflect on violent pasts and the troubled present, and Italian artist Quayola, with a digital animation that references the countryside painted by Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh.
“Sometimes it just makes me tremble when I think about all of the ideas that these artists are putting forth, with work that’s absolutely visually gorgeous to look at in some cases, and in all cases compelling to look at,” Crutchfield said.
“A reverence for nature comes through in all the work, and I love that we all have that in common,” Sons wrote.