‘Tree Haptics: the sensation of a particular history’ by Stephen Vincent

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The haptic mark–in whatever form it takes–gives us a rendering of a sensual apprehension of space. The marks–marking sensation as they do–are fluid. Within any combination of marks we witness the incisions of a particular history: the group of wrinkles in an aging person’s face, or the apparent cracks and scars up and down the bark or skin of a tree’s trunk. These incisions–these haptics–are one of the ways in which we may publicly and intimately witness the sensual pace, rhythm, shape and character of an historical record: the inscription of an event, its autobiography, if you will.

For the past year I have been looking closely at the trees in my San Francisco neighborhood. In this work, I have taken “micro-photos” of specific marks, singular or in combination, that I find on Sycamore trees that occasionally grow in spaced groups in front of homes along the local sidewalks. When looked at closely, these individual marks appear to offer signs, a kind of encoded language that discloses the enfolded story of at least a significant portion and time in the tree’s growth. Indeed, when I began to piece the photos together into a kind of syntax, it became hard to look at the visual structure of and combination of these marks–including their seeming revelation of obstacles, pauses, struggles, ascents and descents–without sensing that these marks (or haptics) could not also be experienced as a mirror of the history of my our own either intimate and/or public struggles.

In fact, though it is entirely speculative on my part, it is interesting to imagine that inscriptions similar to these tree trunks were also possibly at the origins and one of several possible visual resources for turning spoken language into either hieroglyphs and/or script.

Though these marks are gathered from both the same and separate trees, in this vertical format I have worked to organize them into the illusion of a continuous trunk and/or scroll. I understand that on some level there is something obviously predictive and allegorically/metaphorically familiar about connecting the tree with human life, myth, poetry, history, and so forth. What I want to think is that there is something unique and fresh here about the connection that we might make when we look closely at these marks. Instead of transparent allegory or metaphor, what I find intriguing about these marks is that we are compelled to take them on their own immediate, concrete terms. There is no imposing interference or implied connection to something else. Yet something in the syntactical character of the individual marks and their relationships compels our witness.

From the point of view of this artist and writer, the commitment here was to discover and organize the marks in a way that orchestrates the various elements, these haptic marks, into a kind of readable, resonant and sustained song. They aren’t spelled out into a familiar narrative, yet the complication of the marks will not permit us to think that we can be spared from implication in their history.

(Click to enlarge)

stephen vincent trees