Zenfolio | Jack Burton Photography | Tree of Life

The Tree of Life project is a photographic art sculpture, composed and made from a collage of images based on human and ecological ideologies, illustrating an abstraction of the tree of life. At first appearance the large scale print depicts a tree. On closer inspection other images begin to emerge – different animals materialise amongst the branches. Finally, on close inspection the overall image breaks apart and is seen to be constructed from thousands of individual photographs.

The Tree of Life is an archetype used in many religious, philosophical and even scientific beliefs of nature and the creation of the universe. This abstraction brings together the different perceptions of this archetype in one tree. This piece of work is devised to collectively celebrate nature of its worth; from every human conscious understanding of its value and origin. The tree itself is composed of the Eukaryotic Web, referencing the Phylogenetic Tree of Life which is used to describe how species relate to each other through Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The sun is composed solely of images of the sun with the religious, mythological and spiritual perceptions of nature and creation, referenced through symbolism. The background is composed of images that reflect the two main ecological bodies of the planet: the top half a collage depicting the ocean environment; the bottom half composed of various of images of terrestrial land.

The significance of this beautifully crafted art work is that it unifies various understandings of the universe, celebrating a collective cultural significance the world has had on our consciousness. It is typical in human nature to pick apart our differences, yet we often ignore our categorical similarities; the perception of how the universe came to be is the ultimate topic of controversy, and yet, through our conscious understanding of it we share a mutual component: the Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life abstraction acknowledges and creatively brings together the world’s largest belief systems, celebrating the representative tree as their archetype; it brings together Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Mayan, Nordic and the Scientific theory of evolution.

To aid spectators’ understanding of this intricate and meticulous art sculpture, they are guided on an immersive walk through a bountiful garden, with photographic prints steering your direction, representative of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The photographs themselves are mosaics of images that form one depiction – elucidating the artistic design behind the Tree of Life abstraction. The end of the guided route brings you to an awe inspiring Orchard, where a line of trees brings the spectator’s focus to an 8x8ft free-standing sculpture: the Tree of Life. On each of the eight trees there are A4 laminates sheets: creatively designed with tree photographs taken from the garden and a symbol of each philosophy incorporated within the Tree of Life abstraction. These sheets give a concise explanation of how the tree is used as an archetype in that particular philosophy.

From being immersed within the realms of nature and informed on the significant influence of the archetype, you are presented with the final tree that brings all philosophies together. In front of you is a collage of 40,000 images carefully placed within a square frame of leaves extracted from the garden. The two backgrounds are easily distinguished through the vivid contrast of the green and blue elements; the complexity of the various featured content matter shine a collective light of colour which beautifully contrasts against the tree in the foreground. The tree is significantly darker than the rest of the design, allowing the colorful elements of the evolutionary web of the canopy to be discerned. The roots spread out invasively and consume the lower half of the frame. Behind and shining through the tree is the red spherical sun with the symbolic subject matter – at 6pm the sun hits the back of the frame which casts a light through the sculpture, shining an aura of light around the sun. The design is printed onto bamboo silk, a material with connotation to nature and plant matter, and a recycled substance representing the very nature of trees in transforming dead matter into new growth.

To delve into the ambitious attempt of illustrating a concept which incorporates various human ideologies, this project drew on influences from innovative artistic movements of the 19th century and current photographic projects. These inspirations opened doors to shape the depiction this project aimed to produce. The influence from impressionism and pointillism can be seen in the Tree of Life abstraction from the approach and technique applied to make the depiction. From the varied colour tones created through each individual photograph, because of their composition, they have collectively form a discernable image of a tree.

The Tree of Life project unequivocally correlates with Chris Jordan’s artistic process of forming a depiction: using smaller subject matter to create one image with relevance to the typified ideas. In particular, like Chris Jordan’s “running the numbers” projects, the Tree of Life also has strong environmental connotations.

The aim of this sculpture is to elucidate the importance and beauty of nature; to incorporate all interpretations of how the world came to be as a collective representation of its fundamental significance to our perceptions and culture. The sculpture achieves this aim through the installation’s organic and natural set up, its immersive elements and through interweaving the various connotations outlined above. Furthermore, it also makes some sections of the abstractions clearer and more aesthetically pleasing through the immersive elements applied to the installation. In retrospect, researching alternative ways of printing might have benefitted the project, as printing on silk affected the resolution of my image. To fulfil ultimate integrity behind the art piece, it would also have been most effective if the photographs were all different to each other.

No matter what your beliefs are, on what the world is or how it was formed, we all share a mutual perception of its worth through an overarching archetype: the tree. This work acknowledges this cultural significance. In bringing together ecology and human consciousness, the Tree of Life highlights nature’s significance, and suggests that we should collectively do what we can to protect it.

I'd like to thank Solomon Lamey, Rosie Bewley and Mark Highley for their help and support of the project, amongst everyone else that helped me put this installation together.