Sculpture professor repurposes 75 Christmas trees for art installation.


Sculpture professor repurposes 75 Christmas trees for art installation.

Allison Wiese raided dumpsites and curbs to give San Diego Christmas trees an artistic second life in "Clearing." On Jan. 28, visitors made their way to the center of a small forest where food, drink and company were waiting to be enjoyed. The installation was available for public viewing through Feb. 1.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm an Assistant Professor of Sculpture in the Department of Art, Architecture + Art History, continuing my fourth year at USD. I teach Introduction to Sculpture, Foundations in Form, and Intermediate / Advanced Sculpture along with special topics classes like Sculpture / Landscape and Designing for Social Space.

Around me I see a lot of Christmas trees. What have you done here today?

You’re standing in the midst of about 75 discarded Christmas trees I’ve used to create an artificial grove with a central clearing. Some of the trees were scrounged from the curbside on green collection day, but most of them were absconded with from local Christmas tree recycling sites.

Why have you done this?

My work often involves accretion. I’ve always been drawn to activities like piling and gathering. I’m also interested in dealing with materials that are not traditional art materials, that have had another life, but can be made into something else. In this case I worked really intuitively. I wasn’t planning this. I'd never thought of using Christmas trees—I just became aware that there was a material available to me in vast quantity, and I started thinking about what I could do with it.

I’ve always had an ambivalence about the ritual of bringing nature into the home once a year, when the end game of that proposition is always dragging the thing out to the curb, almost like a dead body. Now most cities have recycling programs, but I kind of liked the idea that before they got mulched the trees could have yet another use here.

This isn’t what I would typically think of when you use the word "sculpture." Is most of your work like this?

I use whatever material is appropriate for the idea, so my media changes from project to project. While I deal with a lot of very traditional sculptural ideas like space, scale and form, I also think a lot about historical and cultural contexts, figurative language and what tickles my funny (or serious) bone. With this project I was surreptitiously taking trees from the dumpsite two-by-two in my Suburban. In the past I’ve used ingredients as diverse as live sheep, Valencia oranges and car lot signage.

What sort of comments did you hear from others as you were making off with Christmas trees?

I took a few straight from other peoples’ cars. A couple times when I was vetting the tree pile for good candidates for this project, somebody else was pulling up with a truck and dumping off a tree, and they were happy to know that it would be reused. I had only good interactions with people.

What is a good candidate for this particular project? What were you looking for?

I was looking for nice, well-preserved trees, although I’m happy that they deteriorate and brown here. It’s not like they came with their root balls. Christmas trees are already in the act of dying and deteriorating. But I was looking for trees that already had bases attached to them. About half of the trees I got had bases already attached; the other half I had to create for them. I was also looking at scale. And lovely details: delivery and price tags, stray ornaments and tinsel, flocking.

What are you hoping visitors take away from the installation?

[I hope visitors have] an uncanny sense that they’re entering a forest—well, a grove just big enough to maybe barely allow one the sense of threading through trees to reach a clearing. [I hope they feel] that it's not a forest, and the scale is all wrong—many of the trees are taller than us, but they're diminutive by tree standards—and these are unrooted trees with lumber stands. [I hope visitors have] a newly irritated awareness of the often equally fantastical landscape around them.

Contact Information

James T. Harris III, DEd
Office of the President

Hughes Center 222
5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110

Phone: (619) 260-4520
Fax: (619) 260-6833

Office Hours

8 a.m. - 5 p.m.