It started with an idea. A seed, if you will—one that quickly took root and grew into Network, a public art project now on display at Barrington Area Library.
“Though usually out of sight and out of mind, tree roots contribute in so many ways to tree health, and the well-being of our communities and environment. What if they were to inspire artwork that could be a springboard for learning about them and other tree-related topics?” says Christine Esposito of Terracom, who works on behalf of the Lake Barrington office of Bartlett Tree Experts.
Bartlett liked the idea. So Esposito reached out to the Barrington Area Library to explore co-commissioning with Bartlett an art installation for the library’s atrium. The library, which regularly presents artwork in its gallery and had showcased art installations in its atrium before, liked the idea too. Esposito recruited prominent Chicago area artist Barbara Cooper to create the piece.
“I love trees, have planted many of them in my yard, and find that to be a powerful action,” explains Cooper, who will return to Barrington Area Library on Thursday, May 10, for a conversation with Liam Heneghan, professor of Environmental Science and Studies at DePaul University. “I also reference to both the form of the tree and the growth process of a tree in a lot of my sculptural work. I was intrigued with figuring out how to put these two directions in my own life together in a meaningful way. I had already done a few public art projects for libraries in the past, but they wanted a temporary installation.”
For the making of Network, residents contributed used materials to be repurposed into ropes. Working with everything from videotapes, fabrics, deconstructed bridesmaids dresses, string from hay bales, drawings, and posters, more than 100 people and organizations came together to create the long windy ropes in a series of eight workshops.
In Cooper’s concept, wooden columns that branch through the library’s soaring atrium were used as a metaphor for the hallowed space of a forest, as well as a reference to Peter Wholleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees. “The book reveals what we cannot see—that is, how trees within ancient forests function as a unit as they communicate through beneficial fungi living symbiotically at the root tips,” she adds. “In a similar way, a library develops a mutually beneficial relationship with its community.
“The Barrington Area Library is sited next to a forest and is a strong connector in the village, connecting different categories of information and knowledge with various populations of people. Both the library and the interconnected root systems of trees compete for resources within their own community or environment,” Cooper continues. “Ultimately, each of these systems works together as an organism for survival, providing us with a model for sustainable human culture. Network is an embodiment of these ideas.”
For the making of Network, which took place from late summer through fall, library staff, and Bartlett Tree Experts arborists joined the residents and community groups. This included informal conversations about trees and the environment of Barrington while working together to create the art piece—enhancing the interconnectivity theme.
“For me, it was an opportunity to engage in a meaningful way with this community and for the community to find something of themselves integrated into the project in the library that they use,” Cooper says. Explaining how she connected with Heneghan for the May event, “I heard Liam Heneghan speak at a talk for an exhibition called ‘Rooted in Soil.’ He gave a vividly enticing talk entitled ‘In the Kingdom of Decay’. It was fabulous. I have composted and gardened for the last 20 years and I find magic in the process of dying and rotting materials transforming into the most beautiful soil.”
For her part, Cooper will address the inherent beauty of whole systems (as opposed to fragmented ones) in the context of the Network art piece—which will remain on display at the library through the summer.
“As an artist, nature is always my place to begin,” Cooper adds. “I am drawn to how forms respond to the stresses they withstand and the obstacles they confront. Starting with observations of specific phenomena, I abstract the parallels I find in processes as diverse as the surge of lava, the creep of a glacier, the flow of water, or the growth of a tree.”
Barrington Area Library is located at 505 N. Northwest Highway in Barrington. For more information about the 7 p.m. May 10 conversation and other events connected to the Network installation, visit barringtonarealibrary.org.