Visual/Aesthetic: To create a refreshment kiosk and outdoor pavilion in an innovative way in keeping with both the environmental values and the progressive aesthetic and conceptual ideals of the 100 Acres Art & Nature park.
Innovation/Risk: Creators undertook the project using a single hardwood tree, harvesting as many of its components as possible. Visiondivision explains:
Our project is about trying to harvest something as gently as possible so that the source of what we harvest is displayed in a pure, pedagogic and respectful way – respectful to both the source itself and to everyone visiting the building.
The project sought to be attentive to the structural characteristics that the tree had in its complete and natural state, and to try to harness these by drawing on architectural and engineering principles. As the artists have stated, it also aimed to create a structure in which “both the raw material and the finished product are the same piece of architecture” (see Indianapolis Museum of Art filmed interview with visiondivision). Ensuring that the structure of the work was not undermined by the removal of segments of the trunk was a technical concern.
Social Activation/Debate/Education: The project had a very important pedagogical dimension. As visiondivision stated in an interview about the project, “We sometimes tend to forget where everyday things come from. Things doesn’t just pop up from thin air. Everything has a history and this was a very important aspect of the project.” The architects sought to draw attention to all the usable features of the tree to encourage respect for it as a resource and to make explicit the process by which use value is extracted from it. They drew a comparison between good architecture and good cooking, pointing out that good butchers and chefs adhere to the principle of making use of all the parts of a slaughtered animal. This comparison situates their project within the context of an ethical and sustainability-oriented relationship to the natural resources upon which we depend.
Community Development and Social Inclusion: Chop Stick sought to facilitate further enjoyment of the surrounding sculpture park, create a fun environment for children, and offer another dimension to the Park’s efforts to encourage people to contemplate their relationship to the environment.
Waste Reduction and Management: Rather than compelling a raw material to submit to the requirements of their design, the architects sought to adapt the design of the kiosk and pavilion to the structural strengths of the raw material. They wanted to employ an ecological mode of problem solving that involved asking ‘what have we got?’ and ‘what can we do with it?’ rather than ordering a manufactured material based on the requirements of the project. The Yellow Poplar tree was selected in part because of its size and properties as a hardwood. In the project creators’ eyes the tree as it stood in the forest was akin to a great pillar, and this opened the way for it to be treated as a huge beam which when suspended on a plinth of sorts, created its own tension and balance as a structure.
Encouraging Behavioral and Attitudinal Change: Chop Stick sought to encourage an awareness of and respect for the natural resources upon which we rely. Visiondivision’s premise was that the process by which trees are turned into timber, fibre or objects is opaque to most of us. They wanted to make the cutting and building processes required by this project as obvious as possible.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
Cultural, Social and Environmental:
The concession stand is clearly well loved and well used by visitors to the 100 Acres Art & Nature Park. The project has been realised successfully with respect to the efficient use of local materials and the architectural principles to which visiondivision sought to adhere. The aesthetic, functional and pedagogic features of the artwork are all integrated very effectively and together manifest the ecological ethos that informed the project. The project conveys both a reversion to pre-industrial traditions of craftsmanship, and a critique of the fact that our societies are losing their understanding of the materials that comprise the objects that surround us.
Artistically, visiondivision has been able to economically turn the rudimentary shapes and structures of materials into a structure that is at once refined, whimsical and underpinned by a sense of the handmade. At a time when we are accustomed to composite products constructed from prefabricated components, whose origin and extraction process are not widely understood, they have adopted a ‘truth to materials’ approach to design and construction, and made an aesthetic virtue of being transparent and simple.
The project was initiated in February 2011. The tree was selected from a forest near Anderson, Indiana, in an area designated for logging. It was chopped down in May 2011 and transported, with only a few limbs removed, to the 100 Acres Art & Nature Park. Construction began around August 2011 and the project was completed in June 2012.
The bark of the tree was removed in large cylindrical slabs. This was necessary, as it would have become rotten, fallen off naturally and been a safety hazard. These sections of bark were flattened, cut into shingle sized pieces, pressed and then kiln-dried and sterilised. Following the debarking process, the tree was treated to prevent insect damage. Large segments of the trunk were removed for the building of the kiosk, to provide structural support for the suspended tree, and to become tables, benches and swings. Some steel structural components were added to the kiosk and the tripod that supports the trunk, and some metal bands encircle the base of the trunk from which a large segment was removed to prevent it from splintering. All of the timber components of the structure derive from the tree itself and all have retained a very raw appearance in terms of their shape and surface. For instance, the cuts and grooves made by the chainsaw are clearly evident in the swings, and the tables are simply made from thick slices of the trunk with a hole in the middle, resting upon a wooden tripod that pokes through the hole.
Syrup was extracted from the tree and bottled for sale at the kiosk; leaves and flowers were pressed and used to decorate the window of the kiosk. Light fixtures hang from the small branches at the crown of the tree over the chairs and tables. Long cylinders of bark from the smaller branches were used as lampshades.
Visiondivision claims that the most challenging part of Chop Stick was ensuring that the removal of segments of the tree did not compromise the overall structure. They documented each segment they wished to remove from the tree so that a structural engineer could undertake accurate modelling. A great deal of time was spent trying to meet the need for a reasonably sized building that could bear the weight of the suspended trunk.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
The project has had minimal environmental impact from the harvesting process through to the construction process. The tree selected was due to be logged, and was essentially a ‘local’ material, as it only needed to be transported 60km from the forest to the park. The kiosk and various features of the pavilion were created entirely from the tree: the tree serves as the beam that provides the central structural and aesthetic feature of the pavilion and the bark was used for cladding. The architects avoided using manufactured or prefabricated components, and drew on the skills and tools of local loggers and tree cutters.
“Chop Stick.” VisionDivision, entry posted December 3, 2012. http://thegoldbrain.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/chop-stick_3.html (accessed February 1, 2013).
Frearson, Amy. “Chop Stick by Visiondivision.” Dezeen Magazine, December 6, 2012. http://www.dezeen.com/2012/12/06/chop-stick-by-visiondivison/ (accessed February 1, 2013).
Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Chop Stick.” The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres—Artworks and Projects. http://www.imamuseum.org/100acres/artists/visiondivision (accessed February 1, 2013).
Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Making Chop Stick.” Video presentation. http://youtu.be/YwBow3kt8cQ (accessed February 1, 2013).
Indianapolis Museum of Art. “visiondivision.” Filmed interview. http://youtu.be/ItUp0c7MgRo (accessed February 1, 2013).
Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Visiondivision: Boxed Lunch Talk.” Filmed presentation by Visiondivision. http://youtu.be/5OxiF-TIeKw (accessed February 8, 2013).
Mejergren, Ulf and Anders Berensson. Interview by author, February 1-24, 2013.
Wang, Lucy. “Chop Stick.” Landscape Voice, entry posted October 8, 2012. http://landscapevoice.com/chop-stick/ (accessed February 5, 2013).