I’ve been to a city or two.
And I don’t like playing favorites, especially when I’m choosing from a list of cities like Rome, London, Florence, Boston, Dallas, St. Louis, San Francisco, Chicago, on and on and on. But when people ask, and I tell them the city that first comes to mind, the answer surprises them: Seattle, Washington.
Okay, so compared to Rome or Chicago, it’s not the most historic or the biggest or even the most beautiful. But it’s my favorite. And I’ve only been there for a few days, almost five years ago.
Cities like Las Vegas get points for having lots of shiny lights and people-watching. I’m very easily impressed by shiny objects and Elvis lookalikes. Rome gets points for being, well, Rome. St. Louis has the best baseball stadium, and Chicago has the best Picasso sculptures (not that I’ve seen any other Picasso sculptures randomly sitting in the middle of cities). But Seattle has these:
Those are real trees. Really. We’ll get to that in a moment.
I have an obsession with art installations in metropolitan areas. This is probably why I enjoy Chicago so much, when you can stumble upon art everywhere you turn. In Seattle, you stumble upon coffee shops and seafood everywhere you turn, which is a very, very close second.
Like the OG STARBUCKS at Pike’s Place. *fangirls*
Anyways. The point of this post was to talk about one of the best art installations I’ve ever seen, the Blue Trees. If they remind you of something out of a Dr. Seuss book, like the Lorax, you’re not too far off base. Let’s take another look:
This was my sophomore year of high school, when Instagram wasn’t as big and photo ops didn’t yet occur to me. It was a wonderful, peaceful time before the pics-or-it-didn’t-happen era that we now live in today. I took pictures of things and not myself. What a time to be alive.
The Blue Trees are simply trees painted blue (with a water-soluble colorant that’s safe for the trees, I must add). I had to look it up later to find out what they were there for, and it turns out that they’re an environmental statement. Blue = oxygen. The trees = our lungs. By painting the trees blue, the artist (Konstantin Dimopoulos) wanted to draw attention to deforestation. If we cut down trees, we’re essentially cutting down our lungs. Trees make oxygen, as we all know, so why are we chopping them down?
Maybe because we don’t see it happening. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
It seems the people who are most passionate about the issue of deforestation are the people who actually witness its consequences, like Jane Goodall. My father is an environmental consultant for an engineering company (aka, he’s the guy who tells you whether you’re about to build something where an endangered species lives), and maybe that’s why I pay any attention myself, but thank goodness for artists who make people pay attention through installations like the Blue Trees. Trees are such a familiar, mundane part of our surroundings, even in an urban space, and by painting them blue, Dimopoulos transformed them into something we have to notice. Just like deforestation.
The artist summed up best what his intent was with this quote I found in a Seattle Times article about him:
“I don’t have the answers but I can raise the issue.”
Maybe painting trees blue isn’t going to solve all of our problems– most art can’t– but it can bring awareness to our problems in a way nothing else can. And that’s why I bother minoring in art history when I can hardly draw stick people. Throughout human history, art has always been a way to transcend the ordinary and bring new meaning to issues we overlook. Trees become silent symbols of our self-destruction. Campbell’s soup cans become consumerism (looking at you, Warhol). And this can happen outside the traditional space of a park of museum; social media has become a space for art movements, and the expression behind those movements makes more of an impact than ever.
I kind of wish social media had been more prominent around the time of the Blue Trees. Buzzfeed could’ve done a viral post with a Buzzfeed-ish headline like, “These Trees Are Blue: But They’re Not What You Think” or “This Artist Just Painted These Trees Blue And It’s Awesome.” And then my friends would be sharing it on Facebook and we’d all think about deforestation, not just the lucky people who went to that park in Seattle like I did that year.
I’ve gone on way too long this time. Thanks for listening to my inner art nerd,