In an instant everything changes

Post by Andrea Kirsh

Barteau Chodoff working on trees for 'Grove'
Louise Barteau Chodoff at work on Grove

Louise Barteau Chodoff has brought a bit of Wissahickon Valley Park to Northern Liberties with the first part of her larger project “Grove”: a wonderful installation at The Media Bureau (725 N. 4th St.; “Grove; Part 1: In an instant, everything changes” can be seen Thurs. – Sun., 5-8 pm through Sept. 15) as part of the Fringe/Live Arts Festival. I saw the beginning of this project in the artist’s studio seven months ago, and I’m absolutely amazed at what she’s accomplished, artistically and logistically.

Grove, by Louise Barteau Chodoff, and all images that follow
Grove, by Louise Barteau Chodoff, and all images that follow

Barteau Chodoff takes us into the woods in winter and shares her sensitivity to the dramatic impact of changing light. It’s a subtle drama, perceptible only if we slow down, and really look. Artists, like small children, can make us see the extraordinary in the everyday. And such intense concentration produces a meditative calm; these are woods where one lingers contentedly. The artist has provided couches, and I spent a peaceful hour.

Barteau Chodoff 'Grove' 3

Around me a group of tree-trunks constructed from papier-mache stood in a 25 x 75-foot space (seven months ago there was only one sample tree). Video shot in Wissahickon was projected onto the trees and walls. Barteau Chodoff shot fifteen hours to get eighteen minutes of video which she compressed to ten; these run in a continuous loop. The camera was fixed, straight ahead at eye level. It captured only tree trunks; no leaves, ground or sky. The only movement was from an occasional swaying of a birch. But the movement of clouds overhead created changing light on the trees and at one point, referred to in the title, the tonality shifted abruptly. The changing light was mirrored in the appropriately-subtle soundtrack, created by Simon Rogers: a soft hum that changed pitch according to the shifting blue/yellow balance in the video image.

e2Part 1 Image 2

The scale of the work is large, physically and conceptually; on her web-site the artist describes the ideas she incorporated as “ paper, trees, light, sound, change, perception, consciousness, loss, attachment, grief, decay, disintegration, death, invasive plants, forest, recycling, oaks, birds, community, planting, tending, harvesting, and papermaking.” But ultimately, “Grove” is a beautiful and moving meditation on the cycle of life and death.

Barteau Chodoff has a rare skill with big spaces, and the expansiveness seems right. “Grove” has three parts which will encompass actual decay and regeneration in the original, woodland site and involve a community in an environmental reclamation project. Friends of Carpenter’s Woods will work with the artist for Part 2; they’ll clear invasive plants from an area and site the paper tree-trunks, filled with compost. The following spring after these have decayed, they’ll plant the area with oak trees, chosen because they attract migratory birds which use these woods. The third part of “Grove” will be a workshop on papermaking with invasive plants. Details are here.

Meanwhile, take advantage of this oasis of calm amidst the frenzy of the Fringe/Live Arts Festival. It’s rare to find a forest in this part of town.

–Andrea Kirsh is an art historian based in Philadelphia. You can read her recent Philadelphia Introductions articles at inLiquid.