|"in their clothes", branches, shrink wrap, tape, 12' x 18' x 14', 2015|
Oak Park, famous as the home of the young Ernest Hemingway and the slightly less young Frank Lloyd Wright, is a separate township about ten miles due west of downtown Chicago, though it merges almost seamlessly with the city in a way that makes you feel you’re visiting a leafy Chicago neighborhood. Speaking of leafy, Josh Garber’s installation at Terrain, Oak Park, consists of tree branches and limbs connected by shrink wrap and tape that clamber up off the ground and claw spikily at the air, denuded of foliage but seemingly revivified into a new stage of growth.
Titled “in their clothes,” the sculpture is 12 feet x 18 feet x 14 feet, and is placed like all of the exhibitions at Terrain on the streetside lawn between two houses, opposite a local school and open to all weather which on the day I visited was warm, but not enough to melt the piles of surrounding snow. The whiteness of the snow provided a blank backdrop that accidentally emphasized the outlines of the piece, and focused the eye on the way the shapes struggled to achieve an airborne lightness. The artist spoke about hunting for trees on railway embankments and in the streets around his studio, of how he wanted to avoid the obvious interpretation of “nature strangled by plastic refuse,” and how he was more inspired by the Japanese practice of repairing damaged trees by binding them with plastic cord ties, like a sling for a person’s damaged arm.
Is the piece also, as Garber put it, a precursor of a time when there will be creatures, humans possibly, that are a combination of organic and artificial material like plastics? That statement seemed as opaque as the title of the piece (whose clothes, exactly?). Looked at from the streetside, the piece starts to look like an animal, its long neck rearing up into the sky. Interpretations are fluid and open with most works of art, of course, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have been reminded of some words by Robert Frost, from a poem called The Sound of Trees:
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.