In the last decade the Southwestern United States has lost more than 20% of its conifer forests. A group of scientists based at the University of Arizona is working to understand why trees are dying so they can better predict what will happen in the future. One of their primary tools for determining the extent and effects of forest die-off (also known as conifer collapse) is hemispherical photography. These 360-degree fisheye images are taken in forests at different stages of mortality to determine the increased amount of radiant energy (sunlight) hitting the earth’s surface as trees die. This information is critical to their study, which reveals that, added to drought and beetle infestation, the slight increase in global temperature due to greenhouse gas emissions has created the fatal tipping point.
Prone to Collapse was developed from scientific research and creative research and reflection on this raw material. As an installation it re-presents and re-contextualizes the hemispherical photographs used by these scientists in an immersive, sensory experience.
Animated hemispheric photographs are projected onto a scrim suspended within an installation made of repurposed materials derived from trees. Viewers are invited to recline within the installation to experience the transition from lush healthy forests through death and disappearance. As a compliment to the embodied sensing of the issues, info-graphics convey critical information about the research and the implications of the scientists’ findings. By combining the multisensory visceral experience of lying in a forest as it dies and the conveyed graphic information the collaborators seek to create conditions to awaken people to the problem of forest die-off, become receptive to learning about it and become inclined to take action.
Ellen McMahon and Beth Weinstein
Video: Travis Boswell
Information design: Karen Zimmermann and Nicole Haan, Mikayla Mace, Ashley Quay
Installation Team: J.J. Richardson, Nolan Bade, Travis Boswell, Heiman Luk, and many others at the School of Architecture.
The project was exhibited in the ASU Night Gallery as part of Balance/unBalance 2015 and was partially funded by the University of Arizona’s Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, School of Art, College of Fine Arts and School of Architecture.
Prone to Collapse was selected by Irene Hofmann (Phillips Director and Chief Curator of SITE Santa Fe) for inclusion in the 2015 Arizona Biennial at the Tucson Museum of Art, July – October 2015 and was installed at the University of Arizona’s Environment and Natural Resources (ENR2) Building from October 2015 to May of 2016.