Accepted Paper:

Metaphor and art: empathic relationship with trees  


Reiko Goto Collins (Robert Gordon University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will focus on how Goto has come to understand empathic relationships with trees through the works of artists, writers and theorists. It will elucidate metaphorical methods used by a western writer working in Japan, as well as modern artists working in Germany and the USA. The paper concludes with ‘Plein Air’ the artists’ own approach to trees.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on trees and woodlands as described and explored by artists through metaphor: such as "7000 Oaks" (1982-1986) by Joseph Beuys and "The Serpentine Lattice" (1993) by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. The research is primarily informed by Edith Stein's treatise 'On the Problem of Empathy'. The metaphoric exploration benefits from Donald Schön's ideas about "generative metaphor" and insights about "empathic projection" by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Goto integrates and expands these ideas referring to a Japanese folktale that is written by Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a Greek Irish writer who follows an animistic tradition that is deeply rooted in the idea of Japanese origination. Goto has come to understand her empathic relationship with trees partially through her Japanese cultural position, but also as a practitioner and researcher informed by the western traditions of art.

Finally she introduces her collaborative artwork called "Plein Air" as a new metaphor. It looks like a traditional French box easel that allows painters to observe and respond to the light, shadow and colour that occurs in landscape and the natural environment. 'Plein Air' is an instrument that allows us to hear the sound of a tree's physiological response to light, temperature, humidity and CO2. The system reveals the invisible and silent life of the tree.

Plein Air is initiated by Goto and Dr. Tim Collins, ecological artists and researchers who accomplished 3 Rivers 2nd Nature (2000-2005) and Nine Mile Run (1995-2000) at STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Panel P17
"By leaves we live": the vital politics and poetics of the tree