PURIFICATION OF FAGUS SYLVATICA VAR PENDULA (2001)
The Purification of Fagus sylvatica var pendula (film) is a descriptive performance and also installation documenting the transformation of the smoke of the oldest Weeping Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica var pendula) in North America into a preservative agent.
The site for the project was the historic Weeping Beech Park in Queens, New York, a small intimate garden on the grounds of Kingsland House. Regrettably a stump is all that remains of this venerable tree as shortly after its 150th anniversary in 1997, it died and was cut down. However, the tree had spawned seven progeny, which still grow in a circle around the stump.
The film describe the first stages of the distillation. A figure in a cloak made entirely of beech leaves using a specially constructed glass still and smoke buoy, attaches seven glass names to the seven existing beeches circling the original mother stump, the names are those of the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Pleione and Atlas: Alcyone, Celaeno, Electra, Maia, Merope, Sterope, and Taygete. By circulating water through these names an antiseptic distillate was obtained from condensing the smoke.
The second stage of the performance took place in a specially constructed pavilion. Over a two-month period the liquid distillate undergoes a purification process, yielding a crystal of guaiacol, a derivative of creosote seeded around an engraved beechnut. After the leafed apparition had extracted a quantity of the antiseptic distillate, the still was allowed to cool and the seven glass names adorning the seven trees were removed from their trunks. The glass names re-appeared, installed around the girth of the parent stump accompanied by their precise star co-ordinates on June 1, 2001, the day the performance took place.
During the crystallization, as the distillate is circulating through the star co-ordinates it accumulates around its ‘seed’, in this case a beechnut. It forms an insulating blanket, preserving the life seed of this historic American treasure. Crystallization is a purifying process: by using the saturated solution to adhere to a ‘seed’, like a grain of sand in an oyster, a pure crystal maybe obtained, as the solution will always seek to sequester itself, and accumulate, as mother of pearl is layered upon itself to form an even larger pearl.
After the circulation is terminated the crystal is left in a fragile state unable to sustain itself.