Quivering timbers

A suspended forest in Brunswick
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  April 28, 2010

POST AMPUTATION A scene in Jacob Galle’s ‘Timbered (pitch).’

What’s a tree without roots? Usually it’s the kitchen cabinet or a sheaf of inkjet paper, but for Maine artist Jacob Galle, the answer is a lot less complicated.

Exploring aesthetic and social themes of labor, cultural and industrial history, and logging, “Timbered (pitch)” is a site-specific material, sound, and video installation showing at the Coleman Burke Gallery in Brunswick’s Fort Andross Mill.

Several rows of carefully aligned pine trees hang from points near their canopies, their severed trunks hovering at eye level above the floor. Originally harvested to clear pastureland on Galle’s family farm in Bowdoinham, the trees create the initial impression of an encompassing wooded landscape under the spell of a bewildering and disorienting sleight of hand. For an installation meant to put us “in a place we never get to be,” the sense memory is strong. Balancing the primordial calm of the Maine Woods with the unease of deforestation anxiety, “Timbered (pitch)” is an effective reminder of our often tenuous relationship with the natural world.

Galle, a video artist, installationist, and sheep farmer, orchestrated “Timbered (pitch)” out of an ongoing artistic endeavor to “perform acts of invented, unnecessary labor.” In a state with a sodden history of industrialized pulp and timber, claiming such a precious intent might seem cosmetic or trivializing. Galle, for his part, seems to encourage contention and dialogue, allying with labor.

“I investigate the idea of respect toward and within manual work,” Galle writes in material accompanying the exhibit. Ours, after all, is the Pine Tree State, and it’s not because we love Christmas. Galle frequently calls upon his experience and identity as a farmer and laborer to inform his art, and his works here are and invocation as much to celebrate our labor history as they are to examine it for lumps.

Nestled on one tree near the far corner of the room is a tiny speaker, faintly projecting an ambient crackle of wind whistling through the old-growth pine trees near the artist’s home in Bowdoinham. Without the soft, unobtrusive accompaniment of the field recordings, “Timbered (pitch)” would be less of an immersive experiential environment and more an ambiguous gallery — or worse, a gallows.

A video projection is less helpful. Showing various short clips of the artist walking through varyingly forested areas in the Pacific Northwest, the projection distracts from the richly nostalgic sensations of the environment by raising ephemeral video-narrative questions. Watching the distant contours of an unidentifiable man (Galle himself) walk through stripped and deadened West Coast landscapes not only confuses the geographical palette, but too ardently pounds the eco-consciousness gavel when it’s a conclusion easily reached alone.

As the trees are slated to hang until July, “Timbered (pitch)” also has become a time-based installation. During the opening weeks, the space is lively and green and the trees are majestic, with tiny droplets of sap still collecting at each base. But when the flora outdoors is in midsummer bloom, the suspended pines will have lost much of their vitality, and the collection of dead needles and busted fascicles will give the installation an entirely different tone.

Nicholas Schroeder can be reached at mrnicholasschroeder@gmail.com.

“TIMBERED (PITCH)” | Installation by Jacob Galle | at Coleman Burke Gallery, Fort Andross Mill, Brunswick | through July 3 | reception May 14 5-8 pm | 207.725.5222

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Entertainment, Fort Andross Mill, Pine Tree State,  More more >
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