It has been said that “only God can make a tree.” Why do we agree with this? Isn’t it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!
Leonard Read – I, Pencil
This passage is a testament to the complexity embodied by a tree. But it is also a provocation; a challenge to us, as we continue our semester long investigation of trees. Indeed we began today to move beyond superficial terms with the tree, quite literally, but also I think uncovering a deeper level of inquiry. Seeing the root exposed like this, vulnerable in its trough of dirt, offers a more potent sense of it’s aliveness. Whereas the branches expand freely into the air and sunlight, the roots must navigate the substance of the subterranean negotiating with rocks, soil, and other roots, in their lifelong quest for nutrients. They seem more tendril-like than do the branches, reaching, searching and feeling their way just beneath our feet. Almost like a river, the root meanders through its medium, contending with obstacles. Where will this tributary lead us as we continue to chart its course?
There is quite a bit of action going on here. If this were not a site about trees, you might not know exactly what you were seeing. (It is a progressive horizontal section through one of our laser-scanned trees, C-1). What I see is some amoebic form adopting a strategy of divide and conquer as it advances into the surrounding territory and recursively expands its operations.
Understanding that this is, in fact, a tree, what I see is an impressively complex, yet organized growth pattern. I see decisions made, resources sought and committed, and movement.
I think it is somewhat amazing that we can go measure a tree, right now, in its relatively static, present state, and then produce an empirical representation of that tree which is at once totally accurate and yet is also capable of telling an allegory of that tree’s personal history of growth, battle, and general agency. We know this history occurred, but cannot measure it in the short term. Good thing it is baked into the branches. We don’t often think of it, but the story of the tree is almost impossible to ignore when we see an image like the one above. Perhaps it takes a gif or an animation, pushing the tree into a more (human-)comfortable temporal space, to draw out for us the agency so clearly mapped onto the topological structure of the tree. Just look at that thing! It is attacking the sunlight!
To distill one from many. And then to build back up into a chorus of independent forms.
It looks simple. It looks easy. But it takes painstaking patience to collect the point data, patch and convert the points into a complete cloud, dissect the data into individual tree files, convert those individual tree files to formats that are usable in other programs, import those new tree files, apply animation, render, compose, and finally post.
Removed from its community of trees, from the representational perfection of the allee, the oaks begin to emerge as the compromised, asymmetrical, imperfect beings that the always, already have been.
From 3D to 2D perception – by using Recap 360, we successfully extracted the laser scan data to a point cloud plan, showing these pin oak trees and their surrounding context on campus.
We spent the day surveying the Brookings Allée at Washington University in St. Louis by capturing 50 3D laser scans that formulate point clouds with Tomislav Zigo! More to come on where we go from here, but for now, here are our scans and some images of us in action.