In the Northeast suburbs of central Osaka stands a curious train station unlike any other. Kayashima Station features a rectangular hole cut into the roof of the elevated platform and, from inside, a giant tree pokes its head out like a stalk of broccoli. It’s almost like a railway version of Laputa.
The large camphor tree is older than most records but officials believe it to be around 700 years old. The story of how this tree and station became, quite literally, intertwined, varies depending on who you ask. It certainly has to do with a great reverence for nature, but also a fair amount of superstition.
Kayashima Station first opened in 1910 and, at the time, the camphor tree stood right next to the station. For the next 60 years the station remained largely unchanged. But an increase in population and overcrowding began to put pressure on the station and plans for an expansion where approved in 1972, which called for the tree to be cut down.
But the camphor tree had long been associated with a local shrine and deity. And when locals found out that station officials planned to remove the tree there was a large uproar. Tales began to emerge about the tree being angry, and unfortunate events befalling anyone who attempted to cut it down. Someone who cut a branch off later in the day developed a high fever. A white snake was spotted, wrapped around the tree. Some even saw smoke arise from the tree (it was probably just a swarm of bugs).
And so, the station officials eventually agreed to keep the tree and incorporate it into the new elevated platform’s design. In 1973 construction began and the new station was completed in 1980. The station even surrounded the base of the tree with a small shrine. To this day, the tree still stands thanks to a strong, local community and a little bit of superstition. (syndicated from Spoon & Tamago)
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The most common way of producing wooden furniture is fairly straightforward: grow the proper trees for a few decades, chop ’em down, cut them into smaller pieces and assemble the pieces into a chair. Derbyshire-based furniture designer Gavin Munro wondered if he could try a wholly different approach: what if he could just grow chairs? What if trees could be forced to grow in chair-like shapes and through strategic sculpting and grafting result in an annual “chair harvest.” After a lengthy years-long trial in his mother’s garden and a sturdy proof-of-concept, Full Grown was born.
Munro points out that the idea of growing furniture actually dates back millennia. The Chinese were known to dig holes to fill with chair-shaped rocks and had tree roots grow through the gaps, while the Egyptians and Greeks had a method for growing small stools. But Full Grown appears to be on a scale entirely of its own, with an entire farm destined to be harvested into chairs, assorted light fixtures, and other unusual objects. He shares a bit about the process which can take between 4 to 8 years:
In essence it’s an incredibly simple art. You start by training and pruning young tree branches as they grow over specially made formers. At certain points we then graft them together so that the object grows into one solid piece – I’m interested in the way that this is like an organic 3D printing that uses air, soil and sunshine as its source materials. After it’s grown into the shape we want, we continue to care for and nurture the tree, while it thickens and matures, before harvesting it in the winter and then letting it season and dry. It’s then a matter of planing and finishing to show off the wood and grain inside.
Full Grown’s first prototype willow chair has already found its way into the permanent collection at the National Museum of Scotland, and Munro and his team just launched a Kickstarter to help them bridge the gap in the final year before their first harvest, nearly 11 years in the making. You can learn more on their website.
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Italian artist Francesco Camillo Giogino, or Millo (previously here and here), has painted his latest sky-high mural in the heart of Chile. Never Give Up, created in his signature cartoonish style, features a female figure in the forefront clutching the trunk of a tree. The city behind the girl is black and white, causing the eyes to focus most clearly on a single green vine growing from the heart-shaped stump. The work, which aims to express the hope that Millo believes all hold in their hearts, was produced for Hecho En Casa festival this past month. You can see more of his nature-based and murals on his website, and on Facebook.
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The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan was one of the most devastating environmental events of our time, with its overall impact rippling across the globe for years to come. But just as stated in Newton’s third law—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—so too did the people of Japan respond to the magnitude of the destruction in an effort to rebuild their country anew as captured in this staggering new artwork by Manabu Ikeda titled Rebirth. Starting in July of 2013, Ikeda toiled away on the 13 x 10 foot piece for 10 hours a day inside a basement studio at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin. He finished work just last week.
At its core, Rebirth depicts a tree rising from the debris of the tsunami as enormous waves crash nearby, but a closer inspection reveals thousands of tiny details, the individual stories of anonymous people, plants, and animals as they fight for survival and try to return their world to a semblance of order. Ikeda says that in his work he seeks to replicate the beautiful chaos of life that rarely fits a simple linear narrative. Instead, everything crashes together and interacts in unknown and unexpected ways, an idea that applies directly to his process as he often doesn’t know what each day will bring as he works inch by inch on the near endless canvas before him.
While Ikeda sketches broad details in pencil on the canvas beforehand, he primarily works with pen and acrylic ink using various forms of cross-hatching and brushwork to fill areas so dense with details, the true nature of the artwork isn’t revealed until staring at it from only a few inches away. Mountains of vehicles, gnarled tree branches, and train tracks sit tangled at the base of a tree, and flower blooms comprised of umbrellas and emergency tents fill the sky above. Everywhere a collision of humankind and nature, for better or worse.
“My goal is to faithfully express my view of the world in my composition, but I don’t intentionally depict detailed images,” he tells the Chazen. “Because I see details when I observe things, rather than the whole, I find pen and ink to be the best tools to express how I see them.”
Ikeda’s time spent in Madison wasn’t without its own adversity. The artist dislocated a shoulder in a downhill skiing accident which rendered his dominant hand temporarily useless. Unable to stop work for very long, Ikeda began practicing with his other hand and after 3-4 practice drawings continued work on Rebirth unfazed.
Rebirth will be on view only briefly at the Chazen Museum of Art through December 11, 2016. If you’re anywhere near the midwest, this is well worth a trip and I strongly encourage you to stop by. You can explore it for over 30 minutes and still not see everything. You can also read more about it on Wisconsin Life.
Film and stills courtesy Clayton Adams.
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Artist Dina Brodsky has many focuses to her practice, painting in miniature on canvas and paper, and recently turning to her family, friends, and Instagram community to submit trees for her to reproduce in a drawn project titled “The Secret Life of Trees.” Throughout both of these processes she remains extremely attentive to her sketchbook, filling its pages with detailed drawings of architecture, wildlife, and scattered portraits of strangers that accompany her looped handwriting. The drawings are often finished with touches of watercolor, gouache, gold leaf, and found objects from her travels, like in one where she pastes a rupee note from India.
An exhibition of her series, “The Secret Life of Trees,” was recently shown at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in NYC. Brodsky sells recently produced paintings and drawings on Etsy, and you can see more of her sketchbook works and miniatures on her Instagram.
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In this 2012 installation, street artist Never2501 assembled a variety of found vegetation to form an eerie skeleton at the base of some steps in the idyllic gardens of the Museo Archeologico Paolo Giovio in Como, Italy. The piece was titled “In Cammino Per Trasformarsi Nell’istante Presente” (Moving to Transform into the Present) and could be interpreted as a harbinger of the seasons with the decaying root stumps and limbs pulled from a nearby forest, fit together without aid of any additional materials. Or maybe it’s just an incredibly disturbing thing to stumble onto when walking through the woods? You can see more photos of the temporary piece here, and follow Never2501’s more recent work on Instagram. (via This Isn’t Happiness, StreetArtNews)
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Architect Hiroshi Nakamura had always been intrigued by how some crows utilize found coat hangers as a structural element in their nests. With this idea in mind, a unique opportunity presented itself when treehouse builder Takashi Kobayashi contacted him with an unusual site for a tearoom: 10 meters above the ground in a 300-year-old cinnamomum camphora tree growing precariously on the side of a mountain that overlooks the ocean in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Using the coat hangers as a starting point he designed the Bird’s Nest Atami Tearoom using a variety of minimally invasive construction techniques meant to protect the integrity of the tree.
“Hangers are not only durable but also highly elastic, and they offer more hooks to connect than branches and hence are easier to assemble,” he shares. “Crows, flying deftly across the dichotomy of natural and artificial, are creating a functional and comfortable environment.” Thus the tearoom became a lightweight scaffold-type structure that works in harmony with the trees branches instead of being directly anchored to it. From Nakamura’s notes on the project:
For the foundation, we carefully inserted pier type foundations between the roots in order to avoid the use of concrete and large-scale excavation. Using the structure itself as scaffolding, we assembled it by avoiding the branches as birds create their nest, adding or taking out components based on structural analysis. We mortared the room interior to be like a swallow’s nest. The design leaves open the possibility for visitors to experience nest building by picking up branches from the mountain side and fitting them into walls inside.
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