Tube & Pipe
Friday | 14 May, 2010 | 2:56 am

A walk in the woods

By Modern Metals' staff

May 2010 - Located in Lisle, Ill., the Morton Arboretum is dedicated to the conservation of trees, with a 1,700-acre site that is home to more than 4,000 kinds of trees, shrubs and other plants from around the world. The arboretum's mission is to educate visitors of all ages about tree health, improvement and breeds, and it also introduces hardy and disease-resistant trees and shrubs for distribution throughout the Midwest.

The Morton Arboretum reaches out to visitors through special exhibitions, as well. Currently it is featuring the Steelroots sculpture series by artist Steve Tobin. Most of the works are located in the 22-acre Conifer Collection, and some are featured near and inside the visitor center. In total, there are 14 featured Steelroots sculptures, which are composed of large rolled and bent steel pipes; two bronze root sculptures, titled "Romeo and Juliet"; five kid-sized roots, a bronze sculpture of a forest floor; and two giant steel pinecones.

Power of nature
Tobin is based in Coopersburg, Pa., and has a bachelor's of science degree in mathematics from Tulane University. He has worked with various media, including glass, clay, bronze and steel, throughout his career, Nature was one of his earliest influences, and it continues to inspire his work.

According to a press release from the Morton Arboretum, "Tobin gained international acclaim in 2004 with the dramatic installation of the Trinity Root near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, the first and only art memorial near the 9/11 disaster site. The sculpture is a bronze casting of the stump and roots of the historic sycamore tree that saved St. Paul's Chapel during the attack on the World Trade Center. The transcendent sculpture is permanently sited on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, where millions of visitors see it each year."

"The function for me of roots is to show the power of the unseen," Tobin told The New York Times. "And on 9/11, we found out about the power of all our unseen connections, the things that nurture us that are hidden below the surface."

A shared purpose
Tobin pointed out in his artist's statement,"Steelroots are my most recent series of monumental sculptures that make icons from nature. They are the first of my works to be in the modernist tradition, with my earlier works in bronze being naturalist in appearance. The icon and visual metaphor of Steelroots are the same as my bronze Roots series, but the aesthetic and visual impact are radically different. They have gone from literal to an ideal.

"The roots evoke communities, families, unseen power, networks all coming together for a shared purpose," he continued. "They gather energy and send it upward in support of the "tree" that is not visually apparent. The curvilinear geometries between the roots frame the view, creating landscapes in the negative spaces that ebb and flow as the viewer moves around and under the piece. The legs are anthropomorphic, suggesting images of people dancing or huddling together in embrace and collusion. They create a sense of gathering."

Tobin's purpose is to emphasize that the tree's strength comes from its roots, even though they are usually hidden. According to the Morton Arboretum, "visitors are invited to touch the sculptures, lie down beneath the massive art forms and appreciate their unique framing of the sky and clouds and stroll underneath and around the Steelroots, enjoying the changing effects of light and shadow."

Creating sculptures out of steel has also changed the way Tobin approaches his art. He says in his artist's statement that the process of creating roots sculptures out of steel vastly different from bronze. "Whereas the bronze roots involved the excavation, collection and sorting root systems from dead trees, then turning them into bronze, followed by thousands of hours of welding them onto an inverted bronze tree stump, the steel process is equally intensive, although not at all entrenched in the detritus of nature. The transformation and bending of (recycled) steel pipe into animated root forms that appear alive and moving is a task that takes thousands of hours of forming, refining and welding."

The Steelroots are a four-season exhibit and can be viewed at the Morton Arboretum through Jan. 31, 2011. MM

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