In May 2019, Puerto Rico-based artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla approached Factum Arte with an ambitious project involving the creation of a 14-metre-tall fossilized Scots pine tree (pinus sylvestris) sculpture in resin and fiberglass for the exhibition Allora and Calzadilla: Spectres of Noon at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas (September 26, 2020 – June 20, 2021).
Factum Arte has considerable experience in working with trees: the Autogrill Olive Tree, for example, commissioned by architect Michele de Lucchi in 2014 for the new Mercato del Duomo in Milan, involved the photogrammetry recording of a real olive tree, which was rematerialised as a 3D model and then cast in bronze.
[L] The original tree being cut down © Factum Arte
This time, the work involved looking for a 17-meter tall Scots pine tree that could serve the purpose. This particular type of coniferous tree, in addition to being known as Scotland's national tree, is tied to the discovery of the caves of Lascaux in central France on September 8th 1940: the entrance was hidden under the upturned roots of a Scots pine tree, brought down by a storm twenty years before Marcel Ravidat and his group of friends made the incredible discovery.
As the pine had to be cut and brought to Factum, the first challenge was to find a dry specimen of the desired height which also had an interesting branch configuration. A suitable tree was found in the El Yunque National Forest in the town of El Espinar in Valle Hidalgo, and, with the collaboration of Valoriza Medioambiente and Sacyr, felled, shorn of root balls and branches, and transported to Coslada foundry in four parts.
After digitizing the tree using photogrammetry and creating a 3D model, the artists introduced some variations to the original form of the tree: the location of some branches was changed, a V-shaped opening was added to the crown of the tree and the mechanical cuts were changed to give the suggestion that the branches had fallen naturally. Plaster and latex molds were made from the original trunk, and later used to create fiberglass parts coated in acrylic and epoxy resin.
Molding of the tree sections in Coslada © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
[L] Molding of the trunk and bark of the original tree © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
Adding the V-section to the tree trunk before molding © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
Cast of the bark surface © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
The next steps focused on the texture of the bark and the overall artwork, which was supported by a carbon steel interior structure. The goal was to obtain a fossilized and charred effect that also echoed the original features of the tree: Scots pine bark is thick and coarse at the bottom, naturally acquiring a smooth texture as the tree grows in height. The texture was achieved through the use of black oxide and mica specks; a final wax coating allowed for the mica dust to shine, mimicking the texture of real coal.
A section of the sculpture after applying the black oxide and mica powder © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
[R] Molding of the root ball © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
[L] The root ball during the application of black oxide and mica powder © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
Detail of the final surface © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
[L] The final sculpture in Coslada © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
The final sculpture in Coslada © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte
Installation view of Allora & Calzadilla’s Penumbra, 2020. Digital projection with sound, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; and Entelechy, 2020. Coal, vocalists, 171 1/4 × 374 3/16 × 581 1/4 in. (434.9 × 950.5 × 1476.4 cm). Courtesy of Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, and Lisson Gallery, New York and London. © Allora & Calzadilla. Photo: Paul Hester