Some six hundred years ago, a cypress tree fell—perhaps soundlessly—in central California. When the artist Charles Ray fell for it, circa 1996, he didn’t carve his initials into its bark; he made sure his love would endure.
Ray had the tree’s corpse removed, in pieces, to his studio in southern California. Silicone molds of it were taken, and a minutely articulate fiberglass model of the corpse was created. This fiberglass, in pieces, was sent to Osaka, Japan, to be used as a model by the master woodworker Yuboku Mukoyoshi and his apprentices, who would carve a replica of the replica from strong young cypress. The physical product of Ray’s love for that tree—titled Hinoki, a transliteration of the Japanese for cypress—was completed in 2007, and is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, which is revving up for a retrospective of Ray’s work, to open in 2015.
Hinoki is a double of a double of a tree that was alive in ancient times. When we look at it, we look into the past. But conceptually, the work responds to what Ray found out about the likely future durability of a sturdy, young cypress: a healthy specimen should be very strong for about four hundred years, after which a “period of crisis” will go on for roughly two hundred years. (Hear, in your mind’s ear, how cracking and splitting punctuates great intervals of silence.) In a final extenuation, lasting approximately four hundred years, a tree like the one from which Hinoki is derived should lie in state, rotting toward the state of decomposition at which Ray discovered the original.
Hinoki will be around for a millennium. And a temperature-controlled gallery in the Art Institute of Chicago is no state of nature; in a rain-, snow-, lightning-, rodent-, disease- and worm-free environment, Hinoki could conceivably celebrate its one-hundred-thousandth birthday intact. Read More