Artist Statement for ‘Tree of Life’ 2012
Artist Names: Nirmi Ziegler, John Roome
Scientist: Werner van Zyl
Work title: ‘Tree of Life’
Date of production: 2012
Media: Plywood, Acrylic, Marker
Dimensions: 243 x 120 cm
The collaboration between ‘art and science’ created dialogues that indicated how connected the two disciplines are, as we share concerns about the future of our species on an abused planet.
The great benefits of science and technology are overshadowed by an irresponsible attitude of greed which destroys our environment. This ignorance of our reality (being part of nature, embedded and nourished by the environment, and as part of the whole), marked our shared field of interest. All three of us have previously worked on projects related to sustainability and the environment.
At present, humanity does not practice a renewable energy policy, but spirals into unsustainable growth in an unequal world. We either squander resources and pollute an ever weakening environment, or live in poverty, deprived of technological achievements.
Van Zyl is a chemist interested in the field of ‘artificial photosynthesis’, a concept pioneered by Daniel Nocera, which uses light, a catalyst and water to produce energy. The goal is to split water into its components of oxygen and hydrogen because the latter is able to store two-and-a-half times as much energy per kilogram as conventional fuels. The ability to generate cheap and on-demand electricity is another goal, as well as producing clean and drinkable water by recombining it with oxygen. Proof-of-principle research has been demonstrated in the laboratory but scaling the problem larger is not yet cost-effective.
The ‘tree of life’ is a synonym for the Baobab tree, which is an endangered species. The plywood leaf is in the shape of a Baobab leaf to celebrate Africa. It also draws awareness to the destructive attitude of the human species that suppresses other species to the verge of extinction by taking away their habitat. And it is a symbol for photosynthesis, which enables many other life forms to exist, including us. We came up with a ‘mind map’ that reflected on the past, present and future of ‘sustainable energy’, making it clear that fossil fuels are a dead-end road (the present) and new sustainable energy sources, especially solar, are an urgent requirement.
The artists Roome and Ziegler tried to translate this concept, assisted by the scientist, using the natural patterns of the plywood to direct the flow of the words.