Rochester, New York 
Fall 2012

Polychrome concrete on foam with pear tree and seasonal under plantings
20 x 30 x 73 inches

Roberley Bell's site-specific installation Sit with a Tree (2012) suggests a playful and profoundly necessary intervention. As such, it belongs to the emerging international movement known as Ecological Art. The tree is intended to provide shade, and the bench is designed to serve as a site of rest, a place of willful repose. It conjoins the organic and the inorganic in a dialogic frame, and reminds us that the tree is the landscape architect's paintbrush. This tree's continued growth and development requires maintenance, stewardship and serendipity; it also implies process and change.

Bell's work belongs to a rich and important art historical tradition. Joseph Beuys planted oaks (by the hundreds) in conjunction with many of his exhibitions. Agnes Denes has planted trees and other crops to reclaim various abandoned sites, and the Arte Povera movement incorporated a wide range of natural objects (cacti, iceberg lettuce, coffee, and trees) into their work. The poetic notion of "the soul of a tree" has often been used to characterize George Nakashima's novel benches and tables. Sit with a Tree also calls to mind the American environmentalist J. Sterling Morton (1832-1902), founder of Arbor Day, who said "the trees, the forests are essential to man's health and life." Bell's installation is a poignant reminder.

Written by Chip Sheffield
Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking, Rochester Institute of Technology