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Nature Unframed at the Morton Arboretum

Juan Angel Chávez and ten other artists create site-specific sculptures at the Morton Arboretum.

 (Photograph: Theodoros Zafeiropoulos)
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Photograph: Theodoros Zafeiropoulos

Theodoros Zafeiropoulos, How Far Have We GoneZafeiropoulos sliced up a Norway spruce and traced its �life history� with an arboretum scientist. He attached each slice to a 400-foot-long piece of nylon webbing anchored in Meadow Lake, as shown in this rendering. �There�s just enough play in it that it will move on the water,� Goddard says, confirming that it cannot hold visitors� weight. �It will be more of a philosophical path.�

 (Photograph: Morton Arboretum)
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Photograph: Morton Arboretum

Juan Angel Ch�vez, Jimshoe �Juan�s work utilizes found and discarded materials,� Kunz explains via e-mail. The Chicago artist incorporates one of the arboretum�s black walnut trees into his sculpture, which Goddard says Ch�vez named after Jim, a homeless acquaintance whose resourcefulness impressed the artist. She notes that the piece evokes cocoons and plastic bags caught in trees as well.

 (Photograph: Morton Arboretum)
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Photograph: Morton Arboretum

Actual Size, The GiftAs Actual Size, Wisconsin-based duo Aristotle Georgiades (whose solo show �Repurposed� is on view at the Chicago Cultural Center) and Gail Simpson have created numerous large-scale public sculptures. They�re among the �Nature Unframed� artists whose installations rely on trees that the arboretum has slated for removal because they are dead, ailing or invasive. Georgiades and Simpson gathered felled trees into a giant �present,� tied with a bow. Kunz describes their work as �a metaphor [for] the treasure and rarity of the arboretum to the public�and [its] scale. Nature has a way of making its inhabitants feel very small.�

 (Photograph: Morton Arboretum)
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Photograph: Morton Arboretum

Carol Hummel, Lichen It! Local crocheters helped the Ohio-based artist make the roughly 400 �lichens� covering the tree. �They�re not nailed on or physically attached with anything that penetrates the tree bark,� Goddard says. �They are just sewn together, wrapped on the tree like a sweater or tree cozy.� The patches are sparser toward the top, mimicking the way lichens grow on trees to remind us of our symbiotic relationship with nature. Reactions to Hummel�s piece vary: �We�ve had children coming up and hugging the tree,� says Goddard. �We�ve [also] had people express concern because there�s something kind of distressing about seeing something man-made in such a natural setting.�

 (Photograph: Morton Arboretum)
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Photograph: Morton Arboretum

Anonymous, You Are BeautifulThe anonymous Chicago collective behind the �You Are Beautiful� campaign spells out its message in ten-foot-tall letters on a hill, which recall �the Hollywood sign in L.A.,� Goddard suggests. Kunz hopes visitors think of the slogan�s �poetic implications.� Goddard believes You Are Beautiful reflects the arboretum�s desire for �accessible� art. �We wanted pieces where, even if you don�t have a lot of experience with art, it�s something you can get the message of. You can see it from a distance, so it�s almost like the hill is calling out.�

When Thomas Matsuda sets fire to his sculpture Purification at the Morton Arboretum Thursday 19, the ceremonial burning launches an unusual experiment. “We’ve done art exhibitions before, but those were [preexisting] works,” the arboretum’s exhibit developer, Leslie Goddard, tells me by phone. For its new show, “Nature Unframed,” the Lisle institution invited 11 artists from the U.S. and Europe to create works that respond specifically to the site’s trees, lakes and other features. All of the sculptures are within walking distance of the arboretum’s visitors’ center. “You can see the whole exhibition within about 50 minutes,” promises Goddard.

The Morton Arboretum doesn’t seem like a natural setting for art, but Goddard believes artists can “help us look at trees in a new way, and maybe stir up some thoughts and some emotions that might not have been there.… It’s really neat to see the trees through artists’ eyes. That’s been the best part of the installation so far.” She and local artist Anna Kunz, the curatorial adviser for “Nature Unframed,” preview five artworks:

 

Several special tours mark the opening of “Nature Unframed” this weekend.

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