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Wishing trees Lou Baker A multi-site participatory and durational installation during the Covid-19 pandemic, 24.3.20 and ongoing


Research question: How can I still facilitate participatory art when we’re self isolated, socially distanced and can’t touch what anyone else has touched?


Touch has always been a critical part of my practice, so the prospect of not being able to work with it by inviting people to participate is unthinkable. I’ve reflected more specifically about textiles and touch in another presentation, also available on Issuu: https://issuu.com/loubakerarti st/docs/lou_baker__textiles_a nd_touch__22.3.20.pptx


I decided to set up an installation outside the front of my house, on the metal cage protecting the silver birch tree on the street. At first, I left a big bucket of strips of cloth for passers-by to add. Day 1 Tuesday 24.3.20 10.41am


However, I was conscious that people might be worried about touching what I’d touched - a ubiquitous and very real contamination anxiety - so I removed it. A few people had, however, tied strips of cloth on to the installation in the intervening couple of hours. Day 1 Tuesday 24.3.20 13.05pm


Instead, I invited passersby to bring things to add to the installation. I decided that I would add more strips of cloth to the tree every day too. I called it a Wishing tree.


I used a selection of light weight, brightly coloured strips of recycled cloth that I’ve used for other participatory projects. They are predominantly synthetic fabrics so shouldn’t disintegrate. It’ll be interesting to see how they weather. It’s important to me that as much of my work as possible is sustainable. I will obviously remove them all when the time comes. Day 2 Wednesday 25.3.20 11.45am


Wishing trees are found around the world in many cultures. A chosen tree becomes a focus for wishes, hopes, prayers and dreams.

Japan

Hong Kong


People are invited to bring things to attach to the tree. It’s a collective and cumulative community response.

Yakutsk, Siberia

Ireland


In the UK, since the 1700s, people have hammered coins into old or fallen trees.

Coin Trees It’s believed that there are spirits in these trees and that if a sick person presses a coin into the tree, they will recover. It’s also meant to bring good fortune.

Bios Urn (2020) The Fascinating Cultural Trend of “Wish Trees” Available at: https://urnabios.com/the-fascinatingcultural-trend-of-wishing-trees/ (Accessed 25 March 2020)


Clootie wells, Scotland In Scotland, cloths or clothing are tied to specific trees near a water source. They’re known as ‘clootie wells.’ The cloth is soaked in the well, and then hung on the trees as offerings. The tradition is that as the cloth rotted away, the sick person would recover. I think the tree in this image has a similar aesthetic to my Wishing trees. One Book One District (no date) Wish trees around the world Available at: https://sites.google.com/sd25.org/onebookonedistrictwishtree/wis h-trees-around-the-world (Accessed 1 May 20)


The Clootie Well, Munlochy, Scotland

This clootie well has, apparently, become very popular in recent years. ‘Many people still obviously believe that leaving an offering will be of benefit to them or to others. One problem, it seems, is that many choose to leave items made of synthetic materials that will never rot away. This does little for the local environment, and neither, according to the tradition of the well, can it do anything for the health of the individual needing to be cured.’ I’m especially intrigued that this Clootie Well is described as an ‘unsettling place.’ One issue I have with my Wishing trees is that they’re so hopeful. That is the point, obviously, in this situation, but it feels strange to me to make art that’s doesn’t have a dark side. Undiscovered Scotland (2020) The Clootie Well, Available at: https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/munlo chy/clootiewell/index.html (Accessed 1 May 2020)


Yoko Ono, Wish tree

‘Yoko Ono’s interactive artwork, Wish Tree (1996) has been integral to many of her exhibitions around the world in museums and cultural centers where people have been invited to write their personal wishes for peace and tie them to a tree branch. Yoko has collected all the wishes - currently totalling over a million. They are preserved and stored in the Wishing Well of the Imagine Peace Tower.’ Lennon, Y.O.(2019) Wish trees Available at: http://imaginepeacetower.com/yoko-onos-wish-trees/ (Accessed 26 March 2020)


I’m interested in the fact that Ono’s Wish trees only have white labels. This creates a very different kind of aesthetic to my vibrant strips of cloth and coloured labels. Her trees appear to be installed inside as well so she hasn’t had to deal with the rather mundane issue of weatherproofing either! She also doesn’t read anyone else’s messages, another difference between her work and mine. An interesting question of making public things that are normally private.


On Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower website, there are instructions for setting up your own Wish tree:

Ono’s instructions are much simpler and, I think, more aesthetically pleasing than mine. Mine are much more prosaic and functional. Her trees seem to be very controlled and minimal. She has also branded them with the ‘IMAGINE PEACE’ logo.


Other artists have also used wishing trees:

The Wishing Tree, 2011, New York

Ketta Ioannidou

‘transformed a tree on Governor's Island into a Wishing Tree. Visitors wrote their wishes on recycled square pieces of multi-coloured cloths that were then tied to the tree to create hanging links of desires. The Wishing Tree gave visitors a time for contemplation and represents a symbolic step to create the change we want in our lives and the world.’

Ioannidou, K (2019) The Wishing Tree, Available at: https://www.kettaioannidou.com/installations/the-wishing-tree (Accessed: 12 April 2020)


Lou Baker, Wishing tree 2020

Day 2 Wednesday 25.3.20


I posted a video of my installation on social media, with an invitation to participate physically or virtually. Day 2 Wednesday 25.3.20


This was my first virtual message to add to the tree. I was delighted! Day 2 Wednesday 25.3.20


The next day, lots more messages started arriving via social media.

Day 3 Thursday 26.3.20


I wrote the messages on some brightly coloured cardboard labels I had.


Here are just a few of the messages from social media.

Day 3 Thursday 26.3.20


Day 3 Thursday 26.3.20 17.15pm


On Day 4, passers-by began to add messages, objects and drawings.

Day 4 Friday 27.3.20


Every day I added any messages I’d received on social media and more strips of coloured cloth.


Day 4 Friday 27.3.20 16.20


More messages on Facebook and Instagram

Day 4 Friday 27.3.20


On day 5, a friend asked me to add this poem, which I printed out and tied to the Wishing tree. Day 5 Saturday 28.3.20


A neighbour brought some hand dyed strips of cloth to add and I had my first sociallydistanced conversation.


Another neighbour, who’s a poet, added a poem she’d written.


Her mother brought a message to add, including a pink handknitted heart.


I received my first message to add from outside the UK!


I replied to each virtual message individually and also sent each person a photo of their physical message hanging on the Wishing tree.


The weather had been dry for weeks but now rain was due. I wrote this message on a brightly coloured recycled plastic file divider with a water proof pen, trying to weather proof it.


I also changed the wording of the invitation, inviting people to send messages via social media if they preferred. Contamination anxiety is real! I was also worried that people would travel to see the tree, so I added the first sentence as well.


Day 5 Saturday 28.3.20 17.20


Day 6 Sunday 29.3.20


Each day, I kept adding more strips of coloured cloth.

Day 6 Sunday 29.3.20 17.05


Today, a couple of friends online began to talk about setting up something similar near where they live, which is very thrilling … and I began to talk about a wishing tree trail.

…and here’s a very practical wish from a friend who’s self shielding.

Day 6 Monday 30.3.20


Day 6 Monday 30.3.20


Day 7 Tuesday 31.3.20

I had a message from the States today, via Instagram, from a 9 year old girl, who told me that she’d set up a wishing tree near her home too.


More messages, from Twitter


… and from California …


Thank you to the RWA in Bristol for adding my post to their story!


And today, the first message about the environment.


Home Day 7 Tuesday 31.3.20


The view of the Wishing tree from our sitting room window. We see many people stopping to look at it as they pass.


Street view


I decided to set up a second wishing tree on one of my daily walks, on Horfield Common. It’s a park about 10 minutes’ walk away from my home. I chose another Council planted tree with a metal cage around it as there weren’t any suitable trees with low branches. I wanted it to be accessible to all. It’s also near a path.

Horfield Common Day 1 Tuesday 31.3.20


Conscious of an imminent change in the weather, this time I wrote the invitation by hand with a permanent pen on another plastic recycled file divider.

It’s not very aesthetically pleasing, and I don’t especially like the idea of using plastic, but it needs to be functional. I decided to leave the holes in the top so that it would be recognisable for what it is recycled.


Almost straight away I was tagged in this lovely post on Instagram. I had felt a little unsure about ‘planting’ wishing trees outside my private sphere. It felt like yet another change in control. It was beyond my close attention, I couldn’t ‘tend’ it in the same way. Would it make people travel to visit it, when we’re not meant to be travelling far? Would people touch what others had touched? Would people disapprove?


I then had this private message on Instagram, which really encouraged me. This is Claudia’s sign:


This gave me confidence to set up a third tree the next day on The Downs, a large public green space, about 25 minutes walk from home. The Downs Day 1 Wednesday 1.4.20


This time I chose a hawthorn tree, with lots of low branches, near enough to a thoroughfare, but standing apart. The Downs Day 1 Wednesday 1.4.20


A friend spotted the tree whilst walking her dog early the next day and posted photos on Facebook. And a dog poo bag had been added by the wind!

The Downs Day 2 Thursday 2.4.20


She asked me to add this message for her.


One of my concerns about setting up trees further afield was that people would drive to see them, when we weren’t meant to be driving anywhere. This first addition to the tree on The Downs was from a friend who lives nearby and who had seen it on Facebook. She walked there! The Downs Day 2 Thursday 2.4.20


Dave – my partner, technician, photographer and videographer!

Each day, on our permitted ‘walk for exercise’ we’d walk to one of the Wishing trees and tend it. The anticipation of finding new messages was a great motivator. Each time we went we took photos and videos and added more strips of cloth with any messages I’d been sent. Horfield Common Day 3 Thursday 2.4.20


For these first few weeks, leaving home was scary and awkward. The 2m ‘social distancing’ rule meant that everyone had to go out of their way to avoid anyone we passed as we walked. It felt unnatural and was very stressful at times. Everyone was obviously fearful, and there was little communication or eye contact and few smiles. It was a valid and widespread contamination anxiety. This message, on a Post–it note, was a timely reminder of our common humanity.

Horfield Common Day 3 Thursday 2.4.20


Plans for a new wishing tree in Iron Acton, Bristol, and a delightful message from Theo, aged 9.


I’d just started @rupidh’s #participationinisolation #performanceaday challenge via Instagram so of course I did! https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=4YoG8UuWym8

The Downs Day 3 Thursday 3.4.20


Tim, who’s doing the MA with me, made a video about the Wishing trees and my performance challenge, so I added some stills from that to the tree too. It made me smile! The Downs Day 3 Thursday 3.4.20


The Downs Day 3 Thursday 3.4.20


Horfield Common Day 6 Saturday 5.4.20


It was thrilling to see other people also starting different creative, participatory interventions inspired by my Wishing trees.

3.4.20


A wishing tree was ‘planted’ in Stoke Gifford, Bristol, 4.4.20


Many people started posting photos of The Downs’ Wishing tree on social media. It’s much more aesthetically pleasing than the first two installations; it’s a real hawthorn tree, set in a wide, green public space. It’s very photogenic. There are also many passersby and obviously it’s especially busy at the moment because so many people are walking for their exercise. The Downs Day 4 Friday 4.4.20


Not so much changing on the tree outside my house now, but there were a couple of new messages today.

Home Day 13 Saturday 5.4.20


At this point we weren’t allowed to drive to exercise, so I could only visit one tree a day. These friends sent me photos of them adding things to my Wishing tree on The Downs. All the trees began to take on a very lovely life of their own, an anticipated and interesting change in control.

The Downs Day 5 Saturday 5.4.20


9.4.20 Another friend set up a ‘Hope rail’ near to where she lives


11.4.20 Yet another wishing tree was ‘planted’ by another friend, this time in Iron Acton, Bristol


And yet another friend ‘planted’ one in Plymouth too.


By the end of April, we were allowed to travel a bit further for our daily walks so I ‘planted’ a 4th Wishing tree on Purdown, which is about 10 minutes away by car.

Purdown Day 1 30.4.20


Purdown Day 1 30.4.20


This tree is also a hawthorn, now in bloom, set high on a hill overlooking the city. Again, it stands apart, but is near a well trodden path. It has stunning views. Purdown is much wilder, in an urban way, than any of the other places I’ve planted my wishing trees so far. Purdown Day 2 Friday1.5.20


I love seeing how the wishing trees change depending on the conditions. Sometimes it’s very still‌ The Downs Day 14 Tuesday14.4.20


Sometimes it’s very windy, and the trees look as if they’re alive, like living sculptures. Horfield Common Day 8 Tuesday 7.4.20


It’s fascinating to see how the strips of cloth have been blown about so that many of them are now attached to the tree in different ways.


Sadly, some of the messages have been erased or have disintegrated in the wind and rain. Where possible I have removed anything that will become litter, but I decided not to reattach or rewrite messages. I feel that the durational aspect of these trees is important.


Both hawthorns lost their invitations at different points, as the old ones blew away. I decided to replace them as I wanted people to be able to send me their messages and to know who had set up the trees.

Another time it would be interesting not to have a sign. I think each tree would build its own momentum.


It’s been very lovely to witness the trees changing over time. Seeing the new leaves unfurling and the arrival of blossom is definitely nature’s sign of hopefulness.

The Downs Day 25 25.4.20


Sunset

The Downs Day 14 14.4.20


Glorious in full bloom.

The Downs Day 36 6.5.20


People have added all sorts of thoughtful and creative messages and tokens to the wishing trees

Labels


Objects


Poems


Someone even wrote a poem called ‘Shimmering shrub’ about the Wishing tree on The Downs.


Natural objects


Lots of hearts


A delightful handmade caterpillar


Paintings


Rainbows


Strips of cloth and bright ribbons


On paper


On cloth


Weatherproofed


Easter themed


A cut up t-shirt


A dish cloth, a hair tie and even some dog poo bags, empty, fortunately!


Some messages are about nature and the environment


Some for family and friends


Some are very poignant


Some are remembering someone who’s died


Some are about kindness


Love and gratitude


For good health and a vaccine


Lots of positivity


Some knitted, to my delight!


A stunning crocheted garland and some pompoms


Some thank the NHS and essential workers


Staying safe


Connectedness


‘Another world is possible’

Hope


‘I want to ride a unicorn’

So many very cute messages!


‘I hope that one day I will be a tiger’ Autumn, age 4

More cuteness

‘Be nice to your mums. We built this city on sausage rolls’


‘I wish that Covid 19 did not exist’ Lilymae, age 9

‘I wish I was Superman to save the world from Covid 19’ Harry, age 6


Some are about faith


Peace and love


Some messages are hidden


Garlands


Flowers and butterflies


Celebration


As the trees became more visible, there were often a number of people looking at them as we approached.


Especially the trees at Purdown and The Downs.


I absolutely love seeing children interact with the trees. Those smiles!


And that they appeal to our four legged friends (and their humans!)


Often they inspired physically distanced conversations – with me, and between other people looking at one of the trees.


Some messages say people are coming back to add something


Some people have visited more than one tree.


I have been thrilled to see the Wishing trees growing physically but, alongside that, its been utterly delightful seeing how they have also sparked such a fabulous range of responses virtually. Here are just a few of them:

‘So bright’ ‘Lovely addition to our daily walk’


‘Stay weird, Bristol’

‘A feeling of great calm… and a huge smile’

‘Hope for the future’


‘Lovely colour in these dark times’

‘Joyful’

‘It was very emotional … reading the messages’


‘A lovely way of involving others’

‘A living altar of love, hope and healing’


So many very positive responses ‘Sometimes people are pretty awesome’

‘It’s brilliant …so poignant’


I have responded to every message on social media and often they become conversations.

‘…going to visit the tree …is always a highlight’

‘Great idea’

‘Love, kindness and wonderful energy towards strangers’


Inevitably, the Wishing trees have had a few negative responses as well. ‘… well intended litter…’

‘spoiling something’

‘an inappropriate ‘…a real risk…for wildlife’ intrusion’


I was initially rather upset and worried, but soon remembered that my art is almost always some kind of provocation, precisely to prompt just this range of conflicting responses. ‘Ribbons … don’t improve it’

‘I would like this if the clouties were made of cotton’

‘plastic pollution’

‘A sure way deter… birds from nesting’


A few people were worried about how long they would be there, so I reassured them that I would take everything away when it was all over. ‘…how long will you leave it on the tree?’

‘Will you be tidying it all away?’

It has definitely been interesting to get different people’s views.


Others, however, who live elsewhere, said they hoped that the wishing trees would still be there when they can come to Bristol to visit them.

A couple I spoke to by The Downs’ Wishing tree told me they thought it should be there ‘for ever’.


It is hard to know how long to leave the trees. The labels on first tree, the one outside my house, are looking especially weathered and many of them are now illegible.

I’ve decided to leave them all for now, though, at least until people stop interacting with them, or until this is all over.


Author and columnist Elly Curshen @ellypear posted on Instagram about the Wishing tree on The Downs, copying Spike Milligan’s poem that someone else had added to the tree. 12.5.20


It was also in ‘The Times’ newspaper

The Downs Day 14.5.20


A local newspaper, Bristol Post, published an article about the same Wishing tree on their website, Bristol Live 17.5.20


King, J. (2020) Tree with 'ribbons of hope' on Clifton Downs Available at: https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristolnews/tree-ribbons-hope-clifton-downs-4135529 17 May (Accessed: 17 May 2020)


I was also invited to record a video for a Covid-19 documentary so it’ll be interesting to see whether anything comes of that.


Relational aesthetics vs relational antagonism A significant part of my research for this project has been based on what Nicolas Bourriaud’s describes as ‘relational aesthetics’ (2002). The Wishing trees have a very clear relational aesthetic; they are like people magnets. They inspire curiosity, creativity and connection. What they are and how they look, together with my invitation, encourages people to engage with them, and to come back to see how they’ve changed. In contrast to this, however, art historian Clare Bishop discusses what she calls ‘relational antagonism’ (2004, p77) Bishop. C. (2004) Antagonism and relational aesthetics. Available at: http://www.teamgal.com/production/1701/SS04October.pdf (Accessed: 18 December 2019) Bourriaurd, N. (2002) Relational aesthetics. Paris: Les Presses du Reel


Purdown Day 12 11.5.20


Exploring art in unexpected places In the past I’ve deliberately chosen to install my work in unexpected places, partly because the site imbues the work with different meanings, but also to engage new audiences. This is the first time I’ve installed my work outside in public spaces, however, and left it there! I’m especially interested in exploring how my research can ‘…engage different or difficult-to reach populations’ (Leavy, 2015, p 233) because I’m interested in finding out how people outside the stereotypical art settings respond to it . Leavy, P. (2015) Method meets art. 2 rev. edn New York: Guilford Press


Horfield Common Day 40 9.5.20


Social engagement Bishop suggests that facilitating participatory art in places other than a traditional gallery can produce ‘sensations of unease and discomfort rather than belonging’, sustaining ‘a tension among viewers, participants, and context’. She suggests that this is caused by engaging people from ‘diverse backgrounds’ who are not ‘gallery-goers’ (2004, p69-70). I think that some of the negative comments I’ve received are possibly about the fact that I’ve installed my art in places where art isn’t expected. It’s obviously hard to know who my participants have been and it absolutely wouldn’t be relevant to analyse their backgrounds and art habits, but it seems clear that by ‘planting’ these 4 Wishing trees outside in very public, green spaces a wider range of people will have participated than if the installations had been in an art gallery.


The Downs Day 13 13.5.20


Public vs private Situating art in public spaces rather than in an art gallery adds meaning (Kwon); ‘planting’ the Wishing trees in the public sphere (Habermas) inevitably adds a political element too (Ranciere). There’s also a blurring of other boundaries; people are invited to make their private wishes public, both in reality and via social media. The public sphere is inevitably expanded through the use of social media. Davis, B.(2006) Ranciere, for dummies Available at: http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/books/davis/davis8-1706.asp (Accessed 7 May 2020) Habermas, J. (no date) The public sphere: An encyclopedia article Available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/56426612/STUDI_MEDIA_DAN_BUDAYA.pdf (Accessed: 8 May 2020) Kwon, M. (2002) One place after another: site-specific art and locational identity. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press


Making connections I have been delighted by the connections that have been made through the Wishing trees. The accumulation of messages and tokens has become a collective response from several communities of passers-by. Visitors read other people’s messages and respond; the project has developed a life of its own. It becomes a conversation between strangers. I have also had a number of face to face conversations with other people when visiting the trees, safely physically distanced, of course. There are often others there reading the messages who want to talk, especially at the tree on The Downs. Some people are probably especially lonely at the moment and many seem keen to talk.


Connection


Physical and virtual However, the Wishing trees’ audience is virtual as well as physical, which greatly expands its reach. Every day I make virtual connections about the trees through social media. In the same way that I physically ‘tend’ at least one of the trees every day, I also foster these connections, mostly through Instagram and Facebook, sometimes Twitter and email. I regularly share photos of the new messages from the trees on social media and respond to virtual messages daily, some from my friends and followers but many from strangers too. I also write or print out any new messages I’m sent, take them to one of the trees and tie them on. Although there’s no actual knitting involved its as if I ‘knit together’ my Wishing trees with the physical and virtual audience. I am the connector.


Some of the connections have been virtual, some have been physical and some have been both!


Change in control With every participatory project there’s a change in control, but ‘planting’ these Wishing trees in very public places has meant that I’ve had to relinquish control to an even greater extent than normal. Although I started an aesthetic with the colourful ribbons and labels, not being able to provide material for participants to add means that the ongoing offerings are very eclectic. Wonderfully so, I think! I definitely find that the change in control in my interactive and participatory projects often results in unexpectedly poignant outcomes. This project has demonstrated this in abundance.


Purdown


Participatory art and multiple meanings Leavy suggests that participatory art can lead to a compromise in aesthetics, and I think that is inevitably true to a certain extent. She also says, however, that participatory art is ‘powerful with respect to conveying emotion and the multiple meanings articulated’ (2015, p232). I totally agree. The Wishing trees have had so many thoughtful and thoughtprovoking responses, in many very different and creative forms.

I think that each tree is developing a unique and powerful character. The first two are bright and their fluttering ribbons make them look as if they’re alive; the hawthorns are literally alive, with the unfurling leaves and blossom blooming alongside the growing messages and tokens. All of them are like living sculptures.


Another form of contamination anxiety? I am especially interested in the antagonism the trees prompted. It wasn’t until I ‘planted’ the 4th Wishing tree that I started to get a few negative messages. I think there are a number of reasons that people began to complain then: • The 4th tree is on Purdown, a beautiful swathe of parkland high up in the middle of the city. It’s much wilder than the other 3 sites and is a popular destination for runners, dog walkers and walkers. I think most of the people who didn’t like it were worried that I would leave everything and that it would become litter. Others had a very natural concern for the environment, for wildlife and birds. It’s seems like a different form of contamination anxiety. Maybe art is deemed to be alien to a natural environment? It’s ‘matter out of place’ (Douglas) Douglas, M. (1966) Purity and Danger. London and New York: Routledge


The Wishing tree on Purdown, at the end of the rainbow.


More anxiety, and taste? • Another reason might be the stage of lock down. I know that for the first weeks many people were in shock and I set up the 4th Wishing tree just as people were emerging from the initial phase of intense isolation, yet still had very high levels of anxiety.

• There is also the question of taste. I was pleased that people contacted me and expressed their understandable concerns for the environment and I sincerely hope that I was able to reassure them. All of these communications were virtual, unless the dog poo bag offerings were also complaints!


Many thanks to all the people who have posted about my Wishing trees on social media.

There have been so many stunning photos and kind messages. Sadly, I’ve only been able to include a few here.


My work as provocation My work is almost always a provocation; I’m interested in the ways that art can elicit a range of conflicting responses.

There were actually only a handful of complaints about the Wishing trees, compared to hundreds of positive responses, but I found it very interesting to hear those views. It certainly made me think about the responsibilities I have as an artist, but I do feel that however carefully I planned something like this, there would always be some antagonism, just as Bishop suggests. I am situating art in unexpected places.


Marking time The Wishing trees become part of a narrative as they are transformed both through the addition of messages and tokens and also through the poignant and very evident progression of the seasons changing, with signs of new growth and blossom; the hopefulness of Spring. This ongoing metamorphosis has already made some people come back to witness the changes, some every day. The Wishing trees will continue to change, with the knowledge that Spring will relentlessly lead to Winter.

Already some messages have been erased or destroyed through the action of the elements. This ephemerality reminds us that time passes. Murav, H (no date) Marking time: Bergelson and Bergson Available at: https://docserv.uniduesseldorf.de/servlets/DerivateServlet/Derivate-23711/12_Leket_Murav_Marking_Time_A.pdf (Accessed 13 May 2020)


Wishing tree 1, outside my house, 24.3.20

Day 1 - Day 37


Wishing tree 2, Horfield Common, 31.3.20

Day 1 – Day 27


Wishing tree 3, The Downs, 1.4.20

Day 1 - Day 36


Wishing tree, Purdown, 30.4.20

Day 1

Day 16


Participatory art in isolation I have been delighted to discover that it is definitely possible to facilitate participatory art when we’re self isolated, socially distanced and can’t touch what anyone else has touched. The range and diversity of responses to my Wishing trees has surpassed any expectations I had when I set up the first installation on the tree outside my home. Little did I imagine in those first days of lock down how this project would develop into a series of four highly engaging Wishing trees, all ‘planted’ in different kinds of public spaces, and how each specific site would add particular characteristics to the installation there.


What next? I think that I will leave the Wishing trees in place until people stop engaging with them. Already I am distancing myself from them, letting them go. At the right time, I’ll carefully remove everything from each tree and recycle what I can. Already I’m wondering what my next socially engaged project will be in these strange isolated times. I’m especially interested in the antagonism and the part that social media played in this project. I’d like to find ways to facilitate something else that has physical and virtual elements. I also want to research ways to simulate touch via a screen. Could that be possible using VR? It’s been a wonderful, allconsuming project and it’s not over yet. Watch this space!


Self and other This documentation of Wishing trees forms part of a body of work that I’m submitting for assessment as part of my MA in Fine Art, at Bath Spa University, in May 2020. Self and other syncretises two seemingly disparate aspects of my practice, making and facilitating. The constraints of lockdown have made me to think differently which has led to new ways of working. I’ve been forced to experiment within the confines of my home and to find different ways to still connect with others outside through my art.


My ‘Self’ (Jung) becomes a wearable, knitted sculpture yet also a series of photos of the same, unworn, in my domestic spaces; embodied, yet abject (Kristeva). The ‘Other’ (Freud) is the stranger, the passer-by, who maybe chooses to also become a participant. Body cocoon; self portrait, May 2020, hand knitted wool Drenth, A. (2020) Jung, Bergson and the Unconscious mind Available at: https://personalityjunkie.com/01/jung-bergsoncreativity-unconscious-mind/ (Accessed: 13 May 2020)

Kristeva, J. (1982) Powers of Horror. Available at: http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/touchyfeelingsmaliciousobjects/Kriste vapowersofhorrorabjection.pdf (Accessed: 9 November 2019) McLeod, S. (2019) Id, Ego and Superego, Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html (Accessed 27 March 2020)


Between the two, in these strange times, is a very real and rational contamination anxiety (Douglas), a discomforting threshold between inside and outside, private and public, self and other.

Douglas, M. (1966) Purity and Danger. London and New York: Routledge


Thank you I have been so touched and moved by the many creative and thoughtful ways that family, friends and strangers have responded to my Wishing trees, both physically and virtually. Thank you all. It has been thrilling and has really helped me through these difficult days. Having the Wishing trees as a focus for our walks, with their colour, creativity, connection and hopefulness has meant so much to me. Special thanks to my long suffering partner, Dave, who has ‘tended’ one of the trees with me almost every day on our lock down walks for 8 weeks and counting. He’s also my photographer, videographer, technician, critic, assistant, patron and so much more!


For more details of my research for my MA, please visit: https://loubakerartist.weebly.com/ For more about my art practice generally: https://loubakerartist.co.uk/ Follow me on Instagram Facebook Twitter @loubakerartist Body cocoon; living sculpture, Day 38, 27.4.20, performance still, worn by the artist

Profile for Lou Baker

Lou Baker, Wishing trees, Participation in isolation, 24.3.20 and ongoing  

'Wishing trees' is a series of 4 participatory art installation, set up as a response to the Covid 19 lock down. I am an artist, My practice...

Lou Baker, Wishing trees, Participation in isolation, 24.3.20 and ongoing  

'Wishing trees' is a series of 4 participatory art installation, set up as a response to the Covid 19 lock down. I am an artist, My practice...

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