BRINGING THE OUTDOORS IN

A LOOK INTO THE INSPIRATION BEHIND “LIFE OF TREE”

By Abeni Czajkowski

Our campus is filled with a unique blend of art - from modern, to contemporary, to historic. If you have had a chance to explore the new Crocker Science Center, you will find it hard to ignore the rhythmic and mesmerizing tree sculpture showcased in the main entryway. The sculpture, Life of Tree was designed by Bill Washabaugh and the group of artists in the Hyperson and Plebian Design Team at Hypersonic.

“The name ‘Life of Tree’ was inspired by the biological Tree of Life, which highlights the underlying connection between all parts of our natural world. It is the link between patterns across seemingly disparate disciplines.” says Washabaugh. The team took the phrase ‘Tree of Life’ and turned it upside down - both metaphorically and literally!

Taking a total of 9 months to design, 5 months to construct, and 3 weeks to install, Life of Tree is not short of hidden details and the team drew inspiration from the natural world to create the hypnotic sculpture. Washabaugh’s sculpture consists of aluminum triangles all bent and contorted into a total of 190 hollow pieces. The tree is roughly inspired by a Pinyon Pine Tree and is entirely solar powered ; a detail which further emphasizes the connection the sculpture has to a real tree.

Life of Tree is a kinetic sculpture whose movements embody the scientific principles of resonance and frequency response. The team wanted to capture the unpredictable nature of these responses across vast scales of space and time and reflected those patterns in a series of sometimes unpredictable movements. As for the upside down posture of the sculpture, Washabaugh explains that it was designed to depict a tree’s reflection in water - symbolizing the metaphor that all scientific theories are a reflection of the underlying reality.

Life of Tree creates the reflection of the natural world that draws our attention towards the unknown. Washabaugh drew inspiration for the tree’s movements from wind flows, water surfaces, seismic motions, and solar cycles and the sculpture is a modern take on our connection to the natural world.

Life of Tree in the common area of the Crocker Science Center

The tree leaves are made out of perforated aluminum sheets, bent along triangular patterns. There are 24 horizontal slices of the tree, each slice is connected to the next by a spring and the entire motion of the tree is driven by 1 motor hidden near the very bottom (or top) of the tree.

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