|| Tree of Life
By Robin Rice
Root, contaminants from the root
(stones, bricks, glass, metal), water prism, swing and
In the Project Room's installation, Keiko Miyamori captures
the spirit of the neighborhood in the roots of one of its trees.
In a neighborhood ripe for artistic development, Project
Room is off the gallery-goers familiar paths, but in its
three-year history, its attracted a substantial and diverse
audience. The nonprofit space was established by Kait Midgett
in a corner of her business Sculpture Lab, where she fabricates
large objects (usually involving resin casting) for clients
including artists Virgil Marti and Pepón Osorio. An installation
artist herself, Midgett established Project Room in response
to Phillys lack of venues for site-specific installations.
She says that once she accepts an artist's proposal (and a laughably
small fee for expenses), "I dont have any involvement
in the process."
Project Room is open two afternoons a week (Wednesday and Friday)
and by appointment not unreasonable hours, but ones that
discourage spur-of-the-moment visits.
"Where is it exactly?" a friend demanded when I told
her I'd been there. She vividly described her search for the
gallery on what she remembers as the hottest day of 2001. Finding
herself bewildered and dripping with sweat in the same cul-de-sac
for the third time, she gave up on Project Room and made her
way to Anthropologie. There she bought a new outfit, which she
wore out of the store and into a nearby bar for a refreshing
This fashion denouement can be avoided (though it might be fun).
Keeping in mind that elevated temperatures depress mental acuity,
it's not that difficult to find Project Room, on Eighth Street
near the southwest corner of Girard. The gallery's shiny white
door attracts the eye. Ring a bell and you will be admitted.
It's cool enough and pleasant inside. You may even find the
artist Keiko Miyamori in the gallery. Her installation IMAGINA
centers on a tree root so imposing that it seems to crowd the
available display area. This is partly an illusion occasioned
by the expansive bristling character of the root, and partly
by the powerful life force of tree roots in general. Resting
at an almost vertical angle, the severed trunk of the tree,
five feet in diameter, confronts visitors with aggressive angled
cuts, which reflect the major branches of the root system. These
hacked facets also imply the violent dismemberment of a living
thing. In previous works, Miyamori, who typically uses wood
in the form of roots and branches, presented blunt, cut stumps
in a way that suggests a more cold-blooded mechanical severing.
Miyamori discovered this fallen tree following the dynamite
implosion of the Cambridge Plaza Apartments, at 11th near Girard,
in July 2001. A video made with Abbe Klebanoff documents her
determined efforts to salvage the root system as a work of art,
a project that drew in construction workers and neighborhood
residents, emphasizing the living tree's role as a presence
and symbol of community.
Miyamori's primary intervention with the root system involved
cleaning. She gently freed chunks of debris from the grip of
root tendrils capable of crushing cement, bricks, Coca-Cola
bottles and still-shiny hunks of porcelain bathroom fixtures.
Sorted materials gathered in by the tree's roots are displayed
in piles on the floor of the gallery.
In previous installations, Miyamori placed a chair or similar
made object on a human scale near the tree root. Here, a rope
and branch swing hangs from the ceiling. Miyamori also hung
a large 30-gallon water prism high above, where it casts a moving
rainbow from around 2:20-2:45 p.m. and 3:15-3:30 p.m. on sunny
Of course the root itself dominates the space. Huge and shaggy
and glistening with golden ruddy colors enhanced by a glossy
finish that the artist applied, it does not look dead. It is
a stunning demonstration of radical scale shifts from the monster
conduit of the trunk to threadlike capillaries. It's intimidating
and almost frightening.
Miyamori says she aimed for a scientific look in presenting
the root in the gallery a good choice. Photographs of
earlier root installations show the tree roots dwarfed and isolated
in large and rather industrial spaces. This one has a different,
more intimate, casual feeling. She makes an explicit statement
about her intention through a short sage-disciple dialogue presented
as text. Though elegant in gray letters on the wall, the words
did not really deepen the experience for me.
The video viewable in a nearby area includes footage of local
residents reminiscing about the history of the Cambridge Apartments
and commenting on the salvage of the tree as a project. Miyamori
said that many residents who had known the tree in its former
life attended the opening.
What is revealed in the microcosm/ macrocosm of IMAGINA
is, on the one hand, the mirror of what has been discarded and,
on the other, the visceral, secret, regenerative part of a being
(the tree) without its festive public face. It is also a moving
commentary on the loss inevitable in the "progress"