Venture, site specific Installation created for Illumine Festival 2023, Historic Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta GA
I love this beautiful image captured by Taylor Montalto, attendee of Illumine. I discovered it when she posted it on social media and it encompasses so much of what I love about public art, and honesty about social media too. How it is a shared experience, for the creators and the witnesses and then in turn what the witnesses themselves create from it. This project began as an homage to the trees and their life cycle, their incredible ability to transform into energy and life for so many other living things once their life is over but, really, now that it is finished, it has me thinking about a lot more... public art, place, the shared experience of life and art, how nature and people are all connected (even if they don’t realize it) and how trees really are the living witnesses to so much of our history. And my own transformation as an artist and the body of work itself.
I can’t help but think of all that the trees have witnessed in the cemetery over the years - the grief and celebrations of life and just life. In Brooks Garcia's (another artist who participated in Illumine) artist talk, he mentioned that women in the victorian era (cemetery was created in 1850) couldn’t venture out without a chaperone - unless they were visiting the cemetery. It was the one place that they were allowed to walk alone. I can’t even imagine how much relief the cemetery as place must have brought to so many women. It being the one place they could walk and be alone with their thoughts in nature struck me as so profound. And it immediately connected me to them - and how they must have felt. Surely some must have relished their time alone. It also made me wonder what might have been created from that time and space to think.
I remember the first time I learned that plants and trees actually had a life span. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before - I guess it was just something I had never considered - perhaps had taken for granted. That somehow they would just go on and on. The giant dogwood in front of my house (biggest one I have ever seen) has been slowly dying for years now. I scheduled a crew to come take it down this past fall and in the end - I just couldn’t do it. It had become more than a just tree I guess - part of my story - a witness to my life over the past 18 years. I thought about all of the animals that used it both as a superhighway for above ground travel and also to make their homes. And, simply, the tree as a being itself. We pruned all the dead branches off and left it to live as long as it could. I have incredibly cool neighbors who understood both my attachment to the tree and just letting nature be (for christ-sake).
These Phoenixes also took on a life of their own. Instead of the 3 types of wood veneer that I originally proposed, after discovering Carlton’s Rare Wood Veneer on Northside Dr.(shout-out!) - I actually used 10. Each bird has a branch pattern made with a different type of wood. The first birds I ever created were for a public art project back in 2012 (Ceiling of Black Birds - in Scenes section) and made of paper. The repetitive aspect of making a bird was appealing to me so, once the project was finished, I just kept making them. And I love that 11 years later, they are now made of an entirely new material and are able to live outside and even glow from within. Which, really, feels just like a tree. And flying in the cemetery at night, they look like little spirits made to honor the passed lives (people and trees) all around them.
I used nine different wood veneers in the making of this venture - both to highlight the tree diversity at Oakland and also bc I was like a kid in a candy store when I walked into @carltonmclendon rare wood veneers - my mind exploded with possibilities and ideas. The trunk and branch pattern on the underside of each bird is made from a diff type of veneer. In order of appearance: padauk, purple heart, narra, maple and mahogany. Much of the phoenix was hand cut, steamed for flexibility, glued with waterproof wood glue and treated with Marine grade sparurethane for longevity outside. The glow from inside comes from LED string lights. The battery packs are hidden in their chests. They fly with stainless steel wire.
Wing span is about 3.5 ft , tip of beak to tail: 2.5 ft
I designed the phoenix with a hawk in mind because I have observed ( and love!) so many different types on my walks in the cemetery.
Thank you so much to everyone who came to the event! Your support for such a beautiful historical place in Atlanta is so important. Thanks also to everyone who took photos of the Phoenix's! And everyone who shared and tagged the project. Special thank you to everyone who reached out to let me know how much they enjoyed the flock. I can't tell you how much this means to me ❤️
A few of these lovely phoenixes are still available for purchase! Please message me for details🙂