Los Angeles Times
January 20, 2011
Art review: Joel Tauber at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
By Christopher Knight
Pumping water, pumping oil and pumping a railroad hand car — those are the central images in each frame of a film triptych in a layered and marvelously provocative new sculptural installation by Joel Tauber. What emerges is an unusual meditation on history.
The triptych is projected large on a big wall in the main room at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Each black-and-white film — made with an antique, hand-crank tripod camera briefly glimpsed at irregular intervals — is grainy and scratched. Shown as a short loop, it italicizes the repetitive rhythm depicted in all that pumping, as well as heard in the film’s rumbling and dirge-like percussive soundtrack.
The loop gets manifested in the imagery too. Water provides human sustenance the way oil provides machine sustenance, while the railroad provides the engine (you should pardon the pun) for population growth, which requires more water. Tauber is visualizing L.A.’s origins, of course, layering oil fields with an unquenchable thirst for water in a semi-arid desert landscape fueled by the power of the railroad trusts. Film makes a resonant vehicle to tell the tale.
That vehicle takes shape in the installation, where a massive length of actual steel railroad track bisects the gallery on the diagonal, leading into a second room. Tauber has built a hand car –also known as a pump trolley — for the track, its flatbed perforated along the edges like the sprocket-holes of film stock. It hauls a big jug of water, while off in the distance a tumbleweed of debris blocks the path.
The tumbleweed is actually a dense tangle of steel strips, their width not coincidentally echoing film stock. On screen, the operator of the pump car wrestles with the clump to clear the way. The conceptual loop is completed by the emerging power of mass imagery, here set against an artist’s singular vision.
art ltd magazine
Joel Tauber: “Pumping” at Susanne Vielmetter
by marlena doktorczyk-donohue
Just as his “tree” project spoke to the sustainability of human intimacy, our relation to nature, and the concrete zeitgeist of LA, Joel Tauber again intimates those themes and others in his newest video-photo-sculpture installation. Called “Pumping” (referencing both water and oil–resources key to our history and now at risk), this mis-en-scene is more of a nostalgic movie set with simulacra recreating the mood if not the letter of LA at the turn of the century. Tauber uses a steel handcar displayed on 80 feet of coiled railroad track surrounded by “period” videos and photographs to conflate LA’s very real social history with its enduring seductive mythos as both Hollywood and ever-fecund oasis. Invoked poetically and indirectly are such factual, destiny-turning events as the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Owens Valley aqueduct, the eradication of indigenous American legacies, the creation of MGM and other bigger-than-life movie studios–all pet projects of special interest tycoons like Otis, Doheny and Stanford, who funded train transport, oil digging, and water diversion hoping to transform (for profit) the desert of LA into the illusion of maverick potential. Adding to this ether of doom and boom–almost as if you are entering a silent film newsreel–is a three-channel video projection shot with a 16mm hand-cranked camera precisely for that ”Oh Brother Where Art Thou” effect. Insistently performative in all his work, Tauber records himself in period dress riding a hand-powered railcar through a pre-development desert-scape, wielding an old-fashioned water pump; a barely audible voice ruminates on the LA of the late 1800s, and speculates as to its technologically bright future and corporate promise. Still photos of similar images, distressed and staged to have that pictorialist smoky feel popular back then complete the historical and emotive rhetoric.
Familiar Tauber tactics and themes recur — alienation, obsession, the mixed blessing of progress — but this is his most poetically evocative, visually lyrical and least slapstick project. Because history and fantasy, past, present and future intentionally converge – an epoch is intimated, never firmly articulated — we see and feel promise and promise deferred, we realize our city’s techo-slicko veneer was not always thus, we long for a simpler past, look to the future, and worry after the limited resources, fiscal meltdown and fragile distortions underlying our city, her dream industries and her power brokers.
September 28, 2011
Variety of style highlights show by three artists
By Tom Patterson
The artists with works on view in Wake Forest University’s Hanes Art Gallery this month — Beth Sutherland, Mary Ting and Joel Tauber — have little else in common. These works are configured so they clearly constitute separate solo exhibitions, each interesting for its own reasons.
Tauber, recently hired by the Wake Forest art department as an assistant professor, is represented by a three-channel video installation titled “Pumping.” It pays eccentric conceptual homage to the history of Los Angeles, and specifically to the importance of water, oil and railroads in creating the city in what had previously been a thinly populated desert.
All three videos were filmed with an antique, hand-cranked movie camera. As a result, the grainy, scratchy, black-and-white footage is reminiscent of the silent films that were the first products of the cinema industry, also crucial to Los Angeles’ history.
The films are simultaneously projected in one-two-three order across a wall. Their lone character is a young, bespectacled man dressed like an old-fashioned railroad worker in overalls and a train engineer’s cap.
In the first film, he manipulates an old, hand-operated water pump to fill a large glass jug. In the second, he operates a two-handled pump trolley — a hand-powered, four-wheeled railroad vehicle — on which he transports the water-filled jug along a stretch of tracks in a rural setting. His progress is impeded by a tangled mass of metal ribbons that vaguely resembles a pile of discarded movie film left on the railroad tracks.
The third film consists mostly of close-up views of an oil-pumping device in operation as it extracts crude oil from a subterranean deposit. The soundtrack for the installation consists of a whispered voice-over narrative about the development of Los Angeles from 1873 to the present.
EDUCATIONAL MEDIA REVIEWS ONLINE
Distributed by Green Planet Films, 21 Columbus Ave. Suite 205, San Francisco, CA 94111; 415-377-5471
Produced by Joel Tauber
Directed by Joel Tauber
DVD, color, 33 min.
College – General Adult
Environmentalism, Urban Studies, Ecology
Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach
Date Entered: 11/30/2011
This short documentary is an unusual love story – the tale of a tree hugger (literally) who falls in love with a scraggly and oft-hit tree in the parking lot of the Pasadena Rose Bowl. In the film the producer and director, Joel Tauber, chronicles his quixotic quest to nurture and protect the sick and dying tree, entombed in asphalt and starved for water and air. After building a barrier to protect the tree from buses and cars, he managed to convince city and Rose Bowl officials to remove concrete from around the tree and surround it with mulch. The documentary ends with Tauber nurturing 300 seedlings from the tree and convincing others to plant them. Having “consummated” his love of the tree, Tauber then married someone from his own species, holding the ceremony under his beloved Sycamore.
Tauber uses his tale to contemplate tensions between urban American civilization and the natural world. The French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes, who placed human reason above the material world, is emblematic of the disdainful and manipulative attitude toward the physical environment. Another academic remarks on the narrow view that excludes the places where people live and work—as opposed to wilderness areas designated as national parks—as worthy of environmental protection. Arborists and tree pathologists provide interesting details about urban environmental ecologies and the various diseases that afflict urban trees. Viewers will also learn about the vital role of trees in absorbing ozone, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter—an especially critical role in smog-plagued Southern California.
At times overwrought and repetitive, Tauger’s dialogue, filled with professions of love for the tree, occasionally distracts the viewer’s attention from the bigger issues contemplated in the film. But overall the film succeeds in raising critical issues about urban environmentalism. And it provides a small but inspiring story of successful environmental activism.
Pasadena Star News
Sunday September 5, 2010
Citybeats: A Rose Bowl love story stars in film
By Janette Williams and Brian Charles
Nearly four years to the day since the Star-News ran a story about artist (and Art Center College of Design alumnus) Joel Tauber falling in love with a 25-year-old sycamore tree in Lot K at the Rose Bowl parking lot, his “documentary/love story” premiers Saturday at the Downtown Film Festival-Los Angeles.
Here’s the plot of “Sick Amour”: “Joel Tauber, a young and amorous man, is drawn to the tree. Outraged by the indignities that the tree is forced to endure, he devotes himself to improving the tree’s life – watering it with giant water bags, installing tree guards to protect it from cars, building giant earrings to celebrate its beauty, lobbying to remove the asphalt beneath its canopy and to protect it with a ring of boulders, and helping the tree reproduce.”
Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn – now in New York talking to FIFA officials about the U.S. 2018/2022 World Cup bid – said at the time that everyone was doing their best to help Tauber “attain his goals” – while maintaining parking spots.
The tree is still there; no mention if the romance is still on.
The trailer for the film, “Sick-Amour,” can be viewed at: http://sickamour.com
San Francisco Chronicle
Monday October 25, 2010
Look For The Kids With The Big Eyes
By Leah Garchik
…. I attended DocFest’s “All Kinds of Love” screenings, which began with (1) “The Color of 8,” African Americans speaking about Prop. 8; continued with (2) “Adam Blank Gets a Vasectomy,” which showed the family, the decision-making process, and then, ooh, that surgery; (3) “All of Me: Sex Over 70,” testimonies from vibrant seniors; and (4) “Sick-Amour,” about a man who falls in love with a single sycamore tree in the parking lot of the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
Although the audience seemed hip and sophisticated, movie 2′s bloody operating room scenes were greeted with gasps and groans. But it wasn’t until an elderly woman was describing the effect of sex on various body parts in movie 3 that I saw a woman shepherding a little kid away from the front of the movie house (and maybe out; I didn’t turn around to see).
Movie 4, Joel Tauber’s hilarious celebration and defense of greenery, determination and in fact, obsession, was full of opinion and zest, but comparatively G-rated, a story with a happy ending on many fronts. The morning after, however, I caught myself leering at the sycamores in front of my house.
And when I emerged from the theater, the Giants had won, good news shared with me by the driver of the cab I took home. He was hoping for a World Series, for the glory of it and the big tips, he said….
Karin Christof (ed): Kunstwerken voor de publieke ruimte / Artworks for Public Space
Publisher: Podium for Architecture Haarlemmermeer
Artworks for Public Space offers a range of views concerning art in the urban realm. An international group of curators, critics and artists as well as the three winners of the Architectural Prize Haarlemmermeer 2008 give their opinions. Do artworks add an extra dimension to the public space or are they purely decoration? Podium for Architecture Haarlemmermeer and Schiphol wants to inspire architects, designers and policy makers to think about the role of art in public space.
The publication is a Dutch edition with contributions in English.
Joel Tauber, Sick-Amour (California, 2006 – ongoing)
By Ciara Ennis
More often than not, public art works are static, compromised and rarely in tune with the given site. Occasionally a public work transcends these inevitable limitations and succeeds in pushing itself into the social/public sphere in a meaningful and provoking way Sick – Amour, by Los Angeles based artist, Joel Tauber is one work that achieves success by breaking traditional public art rules by being durational and expansive rather than passive and fixed.
Sick – Amour, is comprised by an adult sycamore tree and 200 of its Baby Tree offspring. The original tree was found in Parking Lot K of the Rose Bowl, an outdoor football stadium in Pasadena, California. The tree was dying of thirst, suffocating from the encroaching tarmac, and bruised and scarred from careless cars. This lone sycamore tree motivated Tauber to respond to the complacent cruelty. After months of intense care, wrestling with the city council, and permanent alterations to the tree’s immediate environment the tree has been lovingly rejuvenated. Thriving and adorned with makeshift jewels fashioned from stones, dried leaves, and fruit, the tree has spawned 200 Baby Tree offspring that are being raised by surrogate ‘parents’ at various sites throughout Southern California—as well as W139 exhibition and production space in Amsterdam—as shrines to urban trees.
Propagating the Southern Californian landscape with healthy sycamores is a quixotic and ambitious public art project that benefits from the implied long-term contract it demands of its participants. The symbolic and concrete stewardship of our environmental future is placed in the hands of the two hundred collaborators. Joseph Beuys’ formative 7000 Oaks (1982), inaugurated during Documenta 7, involved the heroic planting of 7000 trees over a five-year period in and around public sites in Kassel Germany was both nostalgic and tragic as in Germany the forest is an emotional national symbol. Sick – Amour, by contrast, provides a more provocative and confrontational model because it so clearly demonstrates the delicacy required to maintain an aspect of our surroundings that appears so prevalent as to become invisible. The sycamore is a hearty tree; smog, heat, and drought sturdy but endangered by our insatiable sprawl for Lebensraum.
Joel Tauber and Sick-Amour were featured for a seven-minute segment in the television documentary “Briliant Green.”
The show first aired nation-wide on the Ovation Network in January 2009.
Gallery of Earthly Delights: A collection of eco-obsessed artists makes L.A. their biosphere of influence
THE TREE LOVER
By Linda Immediato
When video artist Joel Tauber went to film a lonely sycamore tree struggling to survive in the Rose Bowl parking lot, he instantly felt a poetic attachment and an ethical responsibility to save it.
That was the beginning of a three-year (and counting) art project called Sick-Amour (get it?). His videotaped interactions with the sycamore (including giving it “earrings” of his own design) became part of a series of roving art installations, including one this month at Cypress College (Jan. 28 – Feb. 28). Eventually, city officials took up the tree’s plight, clearing 400 square feet of asphalt and protecting it with a necklace of boulders.
The project’s latest branch involves dispersing the offspring of his safeguarded tree. By the end of 2010, over 200 baby sycamores will be planted in L.A. at colleges, schools and even private homes, all of which will be documented online with a baby tree map. “America is a selfish culture in a lot of ways”, says Tauber. “If I can help people understand, it may lead to empathy, then to love, and then maybe to activism.”
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Walden School’s ‘Tree Baby’ Project
Walden School hosted a “tree baby” planting ceremony and a “tree baby sculptural necklace” commemoration by Joel Tauber as part of his ongoing public art and film project, “Sick-Amour,” earlier this week.
“Joel Tauber explores elemental philosophical questions about our relationships to nature and the environment in an often quixotic approach,” a spokesperson said. “In past projects, he has tried to find spiritual experience by inserting himself into holes in the ground, by flying in the air suspended by helium balloons, and by diving into the ocean to compose music with his body.”
His new endeavor, “Sick Amour”, describes his three-year long love affair with a forlorn Sycamore tree in Parking Lot K at the Pasadena Rose Bowl. In a 12 channel video installation and a series of photographs Tauber chronicles how he first fell in love with this tree and then embarked on a quest to improve its living conditions, to make a museum in its honor, and finally to help it reproduce.
Because there was no place for its offspring to grow in the sea of asphalt that surrounds it, Tauber gathered seeds from the tree. Eventually, 200 “tree babies” took root, and Tauber has devoted himself to finding green homes for all of the tree babies.
In addition to planting the tree babies, Tauber has orchestrated sculptural necklaces for tree babies at a number of schools. Walden School’s site has been selected to place a tree baby as well as a sculptural necklace to permanently adorn it. Tauber’s tree baby necklace consists of a boulder with a plaque from his tree museum and multitudes of rocks painted by each student at Walden about the environment.
California Biennial 2008
Curated by Lauri Firstenberg
Plantings throughout Southern California
Joel Tauber Born 1972, Boston; lives and works in Los Angeles. Tauber attended Yale University (BA, 1995), Lesley University (MA, 1997), and Art Center College of Design (MFA, 2002). His work has been the subject of exhibitions at the Adamski Gallery, Aachen, Germany; the Helen Lindhurst Fine Arts Gallery, Los Angeles; and the Kingston Gallery, Boston. He regularly exhibits at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Tauber has also participated in exhibitions at the Werkleitz Gessellschaft, Halle, Germany; the de Appel Centre for Contemporary Art, Amsterdam; and MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge.
In Conversation with Susan Bell Yank
Susan Bell Yank: The tree babies you have cultivated are now being dispersed throughout California. What are your priorities and processes involved in finding new sites?
Joel Tauber: I began Sick-Amour to improve the life of a lonely and forlorn sycamore tree that was stuck in the middle of a giant parking lot in front of the Rose Bowl. The tree was starved of water and oxygen, hit by cars, and attacked by pollutants and pathogens. These assaults on the health and dignity of the tree outraged me, and I devoted myself to calling attention to the tree and lobbying on its behalf. Thankfully, I was able to significantly improve its life: I persuaded the City of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl to remove four hundred square feet of asphalt beneath the tree and to place a permanent ring of boulders around the tree to protect it from cars.
While I was ecstatic that I had improved the life of the tree, I was preoccupied by the fact that the tree had no chance to reproduce on its own because its seeds had nowhere to grow. So I decided to help the tree reproduce. Now, with the help of the Theodore Payne Foundation, approximately two hundred tree babies have emerged.
I have been working diligently on finding green homes for the tree babies so that they will have easier lives than their parent. Many tree babies have been adopted by private individuals and families. Others have been adopted by art institutions, environmental institutions, and cities. Additional tree babies have been adopted by schools. At the University of Southern California, students made sculptures about the plight of urban trees, and these sculptures were placed around the school’s tree baby as part of a larger sculptural necklace. A number of different schools throughout California are working on similar tree baby installations.
Images of all of the tree babies and their new parents can be found on the tree baby map on my Web site (http://www.joeltauber.com/). Many of the tree babies in public locales have plaques with excerpts from my tree museum. I am also working on a site that will have seventeen tree babies and all seventeen plaques from the tree museum.
SBY: Your project is ambitiously wide reaching and requires significant partnerships with a variety of art and non-art organizations and individuals. Can you talk about some of the challenges and triumphs involved in a project of this scope?
JT: I am proud that I was able to persuade the City of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl to remove four hundred square feet of asphalt around the tree and replace it with mulch. And I am pleased that I was able to persuade them to protect the tree permanently from cars via a ring of boulders. This was a challenging process because the interests of cars and football were pitted against the needs of a tree.
I am happy that I have been able to extend the project further by helping the tree reproduce and by finding tree baby sites throughout California.
SBY: How has the participatory element of this work evolved?
JT: At first I was on a one-man crusade for the tree. Now, through the planting of the tree babies, the project has become much more communal.
SBY: How do activist tactics inform your practice, especially considering the way this project began?
JT: It was impossible for me to observe the suffering of the tree without taking action on its behalf. My growing understanding of the tree bred empathy—and even love. Empathy is the foundation of ethics. And it is at the root of my activism for the tree. I felt that I had an ethical responsibility to the tree to celebrate it and do whatever was necessary to improve its life.
SBY: What tangible impact has this project had so far, and how do you imagine it manifesting in the long term?
JT: I think that my project has helped raise discourse about the plight of urban trees and the need to take care of them. When I was able to improve the life of the tree in the parking lot, it not only was good for that tree but also provided an example for how other urban trees should be treated. Pasadena is restoring the central Arroyo Seco canyon, and they are removing asphalt around other trees in parking lots and surrounding them with boulders too. I have been told by city officials that my project helped facilitate those changes in Pasadena. My hope is that we will reexamine how we treat our trees and think about why we prioritize cars and parking lots instead of trees and rivers.
SBY: Your work was inspired in part by the myth of the Persian emperor Xerxes falling in love with a sycamore tree and adorning it with jewelry. Besides the more literal realizations of this particular legend in your work, how has myth been a part of your process (I am thinking particularly of the sublegal, interventionist beginnings), and how will myth function in anchoring the dispersal of tree babies in the pubic imagination?
JT: I hope that my project continues to stimulate the public imagination. That is one way to measure the success of a work of art
SPRING / SUMMER 2008
Observations on architecture and the contemporary city
OBSERVATIONS ON “SICK-AMOUR”
By Bill Kelley, Jr.
Is it art or is it environmentalism – the tree-hugging kind? Artist Joel Tauber has a fascinating relationship with a sycamore tree in a Rose Bowl parking lot in Pasadena. The stadium and the tree are located in the geographic site known as Arroyo Seco, or Dry Creek. For years the tree was growing out of a small crack in the parking lot pavement. Tauber began to document its existence and took on the project of building a protective barrier around it to guard against the cars and buses that surrounded it during football games and swap meets.
He also made videos and photographs recounting the ancient stories of Persian King Xerxes’ love of the sycamore, using the perhaps ironic title “Sick-Amour” to signal the present state of things, and incorporating accounts of the effects of various tree pests and droughts on the sycamore, all with the intent of making us care. All of this love has produced offspring, baby trees that Tauber distributes, through a network of friends and allies, throughout the city. While every aspect of his project is generally acknowledged as art, somehow this quixotic project speaks more to the idea of collective cultural action.
What defines the process known as art? In Tauber’s case, perhaps simply to care, to love on a poetic level, to dedicate years of one’s life to nurturing the growth and well-being of some thing – in this case, a sycamore tree.
March 25, 2008
JOEL TAUBER AT ADAMSKI, BERLIN
DIGGING AND FLYING
Joel Tauber: “Digging Flying, Diving, Loving”, Adamski, Berlin, March 18 to April 26, 2008
By Astrid Mania
Translation from the German text by Jacques Marchand
Sometimes galleries are distillation vessels. Joel Tauber’s current installation “Digging Flying, Diving, Loving”–an art retrospective in which the Adamski Gallery / Berlin brings together his four major works [projects] of recent years–resembles the showroom of a contemporary alchemist revealing his first successful metamorphoses. An alchemist who persists in his pursuit of a project: the wondrous sagacity of Judeo-Christian mysticism, blending video and performance art, especially of the 1970s, with spirituality, the history of technology, ecological consciousness and elemental knowledge laced with a quixotic love of adventure and persistence.
For example, the video Searching for the Impossible: The Flying Project (2003) documents major attempts by artists to translate the ancient human dream of achieving flight through the medium of spiritual power alone. The video depicts a varied lineage of pioneers of flight, who partly through scientific knowledge and with the help of mechanical devices soughtto conquer the sky but also sought to lift themselves into the air independent of the rational history of technology and through their own strength or the medium of higher powers. Tauber’s efforts orient him vis à vis historical predecessors who sought to conquer gravity without the help of aircraft they had constructed. Thus one video tells the story of the monk Elmer, who in 1010 flew with wings on his arms and legs from the tower of Malmesbury Abbey. According to some sources, the courageous monk even flew some distance before his faith deserted him and he plummeted to the ground. Unlike his monastic predecessor, Franz Reichelt, a further source of inspiration, met his death in a leap from the Eiffel Tower in 1912 wearing a bat costume he had sewn for himself.
Eventually, Tauber ascends into the air with the help of helium filled balloons, accompanying himself during his flight with music he makes with a bagpipe. In doing so, the artist puts forward an altogether different proposition: The music enables him to lift himself from the earth together with the balloons. The idea for this stems from a historical archetype or example cited in the video from the great balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, whose drawing of a flying machine driven by music may also be seen in the video. Thus, music is traditional in mysticism as an adequate medium for the lifting of the spirit, although Tauber uses it entirely for his own experience of levitation. His undertaking is strongly steeped in a mystical religious agenda–belief in the might of humankind, the powers of the universal to influence–he finds in cabalistic teachings. Thus the Hebrew word “ruach” stands not only for wind and breath, but also for the human and godly spirit.
Music is also the driving force toward which the 3-channel video installation The Underwater Project: Turning Myself into Music (2005) has led. Here, Tauber has ventured under water, instead of into the air, and via a computer program translated the coordinates of his successive dives into music. On three monitors mounted over one another, events are tracked from various angles: the upper screen shows shots which Tauber himself took during his dives; the middle one is digitally configured to see the artist under water; while on the bottom monitor data are shown, the specifications of dives with their successive depths and duration transformed into music. During Flying Project, music is deployed in order to conquer bodily boundaries and physical laws. In his Underwater Project, Tauber goes in the opposite direction, setting in motion bodily exertion and the overcoming of his anxieties to generate [dissonant?] sound.
In an earlier work, Seven Attempts to make a Ritual (2002), Tauber turns to the earth, spending hours in cavities and holes to meditate and to experience a spiritual connection with nature. The video’s documentary material tracks Tauber through seven such attempts, edited to barely two minutes apiece. Each sequence is preceded by a brief text inserted to present the circumstances of the excavation, the location and the duration of the artist’s stay. The enormous physical effort on the one hand, the sober description of his activity by means of temporal and geographic coordinates on the other hand, and the distillation of his spiritual adventure travel according to the tight formulas of an experimental set-up locate Tauber in the artistic tradition of earth [land] artistic performance and documentary video in which artists drive themselves to their physical and psychological limits. At the same time, his work is strongly influenced by the activities of a [sic] Chris Burden with whom he shares an enthusiasm for experiments that reveal the limits of physical laws the artist seeks to overcome. How exquisitely absurd; Tauber’s attempts–painstaking or earnest–explore the possibilities of his body and his will, yet in this demanding formal, stringent endeavor, he nevertheless remain in the bounds of this artistic document. From the alchemy, there emerge clearly structured video films which follow comprehensible activity.
Or does the form not decide, but rather the transformation of the world through this artistic mission? Tauber’s most recent project, saving an old sycamore, could suggest this idea. Sick-Amour for example, a 12-channel video installation, plays on a dozen television monitors, tracing several phases in the saving of a tree, specifically a resistant sycamore, whose American name, “sycamore tree”, apparently should be understood as onomatopoetic background of the work’s title. Tauber discovered the tree on a parking lot of Pasadena’s football stadium, where platanus occidentalis survived alone between cars and enclosed beneath a life threatening asphalt surface. Tauber’s project outcome is striking: Thanks to his persistence the tree is granted more earth for its root system in the meantime, guard rails protect it from parking cars. By dint of regular irrigation and perhaps also the artist’s persuasion the tree once again developed propagatable seeds from which seedlings were raised and offered for sale or planted as organic sculptures by Tauber in various locations. (Tree Babies, 2007).
With his absurdity, Tauber embodies the typology of the imperturbable against all resistance–though all explicitly comic forms of speech avoid experiments and escapades. He is battling researchers, thinkers and adventurers, who every once in a while, in literature as in true life, lose their bearings, a world in which he is not infrequently laugh at and derided. Tauber has restored to art this model of an aesthetic acquisition and healing of the world, although also pointing to the model’s limits. He in no way wants to demolish the boundaries, the conventions and the traditions of art. He places himself much more within them–in order to achieve for himself a fool’s [jester's] freedom in the highest sense of the term.
International Society of Arboriculture: Arborist • News
“Sick-Amour:” One Californian’s Love Affair with Trees
By Nadia Geagea
Simply put, Joel Tauber fell in love—with a sycamore tree.
In June of 2005, Tauber, a contemporary artist, noticed a sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) planted in the middle of the parking lot at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.
“It seemed both incredibly beautiful and forlorn, and it called to me,” said Tauber. “The tree had been hit by cars, and it was clearly starved for water and oxygen by the asphalt that surrounded it. It did not seem to be getting the attention or love that it deserved, and that bothered me—a lot. So, I decided to adopt the tree.”
According to Tauber’s personal statement, these harsh conditions predisposed the tree to secondary pests such as anthracnose fungus, lace bugs, and powdery mildew. Although cars had hit and damaged the trunk, the cambium had not been injured and the tree still survived its harsh conditions.
Tauber began watering the tree and, using a jackhammer and generator, installed metal tree guards to protect the tree from cars. He also began filming the tree to construct his series of stories, titling his project “Sick-Amour.”
“I cannot really explain how this happened, but love is a hard thing to explain,” he says.
Lobbying to the city and the Rose Bowl Stadium was Tauber’s next move. City council member, Sid Tyler; vice-mayor, Steve Madison; and Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, became important supporters of Tauber’s project.
“We are living in a time when people have their imprint, to varying degrees, on every place on Earth,” says Tauber. “I thought that the tree could function as a powerful symbol of the plight of urban trees. I committed myself to raising awareness of the need to take care of our urban trees by the symbolic act of taking care of this tree and celebrating the tree.”
In September of 2006, Darryl Dunn and Jess Waiters, from the Rose Bowl Stadium, approved the removal of 400 square feet of asphalt that surrounded the tree and replaced it with mulch. Then, in May 2007, Tauber’s plan to construct a tree museum was approved as a temporary installation.
Today, large boulders surround the sycamore tree, functioning as a barrier against cars and offering people a place to sit underneath the tree.
“At first, it was a one-man crusade,” he explains. “But, the spell that the tree cast on me eventually spread to other people.”
Tauber spoke with local ISA Certified Arborists to gain more information about how to help the tree. He contacted Jan Scow, a consulting arborist, who offered advice on the tree’s growing conditions and overall health.
“Joel is someone who really takes a stand about something he believes in, and he is fearless and unstoppable,” says Scow. “At first, I thought he was a bit strange after speaking to him on the phone, but after that, I warmed up to him and realized that he is very sincere, committed, and bright.”
Greg McPherson, director of the USDA’s Center for Urban Forest Research, gave Tauber more information on how the tree is valuable in relation to its environment.
“He seemed very passionate,” says McPherson. “I certainly respect and admire the connection that he had with this tree. People connect to trees in different ways. It was great. I think that is what art is all about.”
Because asphalt covered the soil needed to foster new seedling growth, the tree was not able to reproduce. With assistance of the Theodore Payne Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the native plants of California, Tauber planted 200 “tree babies” throughout the Los Angeles area. Each “tree baby” is accompanied by a plaque, which reveals the location and description of Tauber’s project. He is currently working on a “tree baby” map and a virtual tree museum for his website, www.joeltauber.com.
“The land itself has rights,” Tauber asserts. “The different ecosystems have rights. We need to take care of the tree and the soil around it that is squashed by the asphalt. If we want our cities to be healthy, then the tree and its neighbors must be healthy.”
Compared to Tauber’s other art projects, the Sick-Amour project is his most overtly political piece. He is currently working on a documentary that captures the project from beginning to end. He also admits that all of his projects tend to be obsessive and long endeavors.
The Sick-Amour exhibit consists of large monitors with earphones positioned as leaves hanging from a tree. The videos display steps of the Sick-Amour project.
Tauber is looking forward to more celebrations as tree babies are planted throughout Los Angeles. A few of the tree babies have been planted in Europe. However, he is still looking to spread more trees in California. For more information on spreading the celebration of the sycamore tree, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I have the utmost respect for arborists,” says Tauber in reflection on his experiences working with them. “I think that they do extremely important work. Our trees must be healthy. I am so happy that they are caring for our trees!”
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Friday January 18, 2008
At USC, a Sycamore With a Story to Tell
By Lawrence Biemiller
Nothing puts down roots like a good story. Next week, when Joel Tauber plants a “tree baby” in front of the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Fine Arts, it’s the story behind the sapling that people are sure to remember.
Three years ago, Mr. Tauber noticed a lonely sycamore tree in the middle of parking lot K at the Rose Bowl. The tree, whose roots had been covered over with asphalt, became not only an obsession but also the focus of a project he called Sick-Amour. Mr. Tauber, who teaches video art at the university, began watering the tree, and put up barriers to protect it from cars, and made it the focus of a 12-part video in which he recalls that Xerxes, the Persian king, became so enamored of a plane tree that he assigned a bodyguard to watch over it.
Now seeds from Mr. Tauber’s sycamore have sprouted and are ready for planting. It’s one of those tree babies, as Mr. Tauber calls them, that will be planted during a ceremony at USC on Thursday.
Tree babies are being planted all over Southern California, the university’s news release says, as part of a project supported by LA >< ART, the City of Los Angeles, the Million Trees Project, and the Theodore Payne Foundation. You can watch the first of Mr. Tauber’s 12 videos on his Sick-Amour Web site.
Catalog Essay for Staci Boris’ 2007 – 2008 exhibition “The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation” at the Spertus Museum and the Rose Art Museum.
By Sarah Giller Nelson
“What kind of transformations would we enjoy if we tried to achieve the impossible?”(i)
For Joel Tauber, this is not a rhetorical question. In each of the four videos he has completed since 2000, the Los Angeles–based artist chronicles a different quixotic quest, each reflecting clear confidence that one can reach enlightenment through effortful action. The ambitious projects that become the subjects of the videos intertwine physical activity with mystical encounters and, more broadly, explore human relationships with nature and the divine.
Seven Attempts to Make a Ritual, 2000–2001(see figs. 13, 123, and 124), for which the artist crawled into holes and caves in various national parks near his home in southern California, mixes pantheistic beliefs with the traditional Orthodox Jewish view that a highly disciplined, ritualistic practice can lead to a connection with God. (While attending yeshiva as a boy, Tauber came to view the school’s prohibition against art making as extremely restrictive.(ii) Here he reclaims the validity of art as a personal spiritual pathway.) Having felt what he describes in the video’s prologue as a “powerful intuition to place [himself] inside the Earth,” the artist systematically established an unfiltered relationship between the landscape and his own body. The pre-set conditions for each immersive ritual varied: the twenty-four minute video follows Tauber as he struggles to either dig a hole large enough to accommodate his body or to climb as deeply as possible into a cave, then shows him sitting in the hole or cave, observing the landscape and meditating. In the final sequence, an exterior view of the cave fills the screen, and we hear the artist’s disembodied voice talking about the state of heightened awareness he has been experiencing inside. The distinction between artist and earth has been erased.
Tauber’s journey continues in his next video, Searching for the Impossible: The Flying Project, 2002–2003 (see fig. 125), in which he depicts the art of flying as a spiritual experience rather than a Leonardo-like demonstration of scientific principles. Narrated by the artist, the thirty-two minute documentary begins with Tauber’s efforts to fly without mechanical assistance. Inspired by Eilmer, an eleventh-century monk who believed that metaphysics was the key to flight, Tauber repeatedly stands at the edge of a large boulder, flaps his arms, breathes deeply, and jumps. Relying upon “different mental preparations and flapping strategies,” the artist never loses faith that, in that moment before take off, he can fly.(iii) Positioning the camera so the viewer sees the launch but not the landing (on a crash mat below, it turns out) reflects this optimism. To the viewer, however, each attempt reinforces the senselessness of the task. After forty tries at flying on his own, Tauber accepts the need for technological intervention. He takes up hang-gliding, but finds the apparatus too mechanical. A 1781 drawing by Pierre Blanchard of a flying ship powered by angels blowing into horns gives him a better idea. He creates his own music-driven flying contraption—a cluster of thirty-five six-foot latex balloons fastened by a custom-made parachute harness and powered, in part, by a bagpipe. Finally, he achieved the impossible: on a calm day in June 2002, Tauber climbed into his flight suit and floated 150 feet above a dry lake bed near Joshua Tree National Park—the proof is in the video. In its poetic demonstration of the power of determination The Flying Project suggests that it takes faith to achieve what no one else has. It also takes a bit of irrationality: Tauber is not reluctant to identify himself as “part of a continuum of fools” who blur the line between plausibility and absurdity.(iv)
The premise of The Underwater Project: Turning Myself Into Music, 2004(figs. 126 and 127), seems similarly preposterous. Encouraged by the flight and feelings of transcendence he gained through the power of sound, the artist next attempted to transform the corporeal (his body) into the ephemeral (music).(v) Having already communed with earth and sky, Tauber focused his energies on the sea. He first tracked his movements over the course of forty scuba-diving trips, then devised a method of translating the rhythm of his swimming body into melodies. In the three-channel video installation that reconstructs these endeavors, the viewer sees Tauber swim through the underwater landscape, its “otherworldliness” emphasized by the image of his glowing, Photoshoped body projected onto one wall and extreme close-ups of exotic coral formations and sea creatures projected onto another. The third projection features a motion graph that displays the depth and duration of each dive.
Despite his best efforts, in the The Underwater Project Tauber seems unable to fully engage with the natural world. In contrast to the serene images of him sitting in holes or floating in the air, here the images move across the ocean floor at a frenetic pace, as if the sea were more hostile than meditative. The notably synthetic-sounding music that accompanies the video reflects Tauber’s sense that the underwater experience was more cybernetic than mystical.(vi) Just as a turtle swims gracefully by, promising the artist the tranquility he seems to have been seeking, his oxygen supply runs low, and he is forced to cut short the dive.
Tauber’s most recent project is back on dry land, bearing witness to his love for a tree. Sick-Amour,2006–2007 (see fig. 128), a tripartite work comprising a documentary film, a video installation, and a permanent public artwork, chronicles the artist’s very public crusade to save a dying California Sycamore stuck alone in the center of Rose Bowl Parking Lot K. Like his earlier works, Sick-Amour examines the spiritual and ethical repercussions of seeking a profound connection with the natural world, but there’s also a newly urgent engagement with politics and society at work here. Whether he is tending toward the absurd or the proactive, Tauber’s endeavors are not at all futile. His conviction is contagious. If he can fly or turn himself into music, then why can’t we all?
(i) Joel Tauber, artist statement, 2002.
(ii) See the artist’s discussion in Hugh Hart, “Into It for the Shock of His Life,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2004.
(iii) Conversation with the author, October 23, 2006.
(iv) Tauber, artist statement, 2003.
(v) Tauber, in “FORMAT, Los Angeles 2005: Valdes, Ruben Ochoa, Lori Schindler, Joel Tauber, Kas Oshiro, Adria Julia,” documentary produced by Swedish Television.
(vi) Conversation with the author, October 23, 2006.
Reviews, #5 Fall 2007
Public Art Project at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA
and various sites throughout greater Los Angeles
April 2007 – ongoing
By Carrie Paterson
The culmination of 2 years worth of negotiations and studies, this project tracks the life of one lonely sycamore tree embedded in the asphalt at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. Tauber investigates the science, environment, hazards and plagues of the tree while hopelessly falling in love with it. He has managed to successfully germinate the tree (which it couldn’t do for itself within its confines) and get a commitment from the bureaucracy of the city and stadium to protect the tree. The seedlings will be dispersed throughout greater Los Angeles with testimonial plaques from Tauber about his experience with the tree’s beauty and blights. The smallness of Tauber’s gesture to save one tree is coupled with an over-the-top sincerity; this becomes an intervention itself into the easy environmentalism of the Prius and fluorescent light bulb because of the impossible commitment it has demanded as well as the emotional toll of hope, hopelessness, longing and loss.
Tauber’s 12-channel video installation “Sick Amour” was seen earlier this year at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, CA
March 17-April 28, 2007
By Jody Zellen
Joel Tauber has fallen in love with a lonely sycamore tree in parking lot “K” at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena. Incensed over its shabby treatment by reckless drivers and the neglect to which its asphalt grave has doomed it, he embarked on a mission to protect and care for the tree. The more he learned about it, the more he discussed its preservation with city officials, and the more it changed with the passing seasons, the more his feelings continued to blossom.
Titled “Sick-Amour,” the show calls into question this very attachment—no doubt Tauber loves the tree, but what kind of love are we talking about? Listening to myriad voiceovers emanating from screens hanging in the sculpted tree, we realize that not even the sky’s the limit. The seeds of the sycamore journeyed into space on Apollo 14, a factoid we now too will be hard-pressed to shake. There’s more. The Persian King Xerxes so worshipped the sycamore that he adorned it with jewels. So Tauber created “earrings” for the tree, which are larger and more colorful simulacra of its real fruit. Here we are invited to fall for a second nature ultimately comprised of information. The earrings dangle alongside the budlike headphones belonging to a dozen monitors installed in the room-sized sculpture of the tree. But rather than being overwhelmed by this strange fruit, we are entranced by the levelheaded flow of scientific and historical data.
A series of photographs with diary-entry titles chronicles the various stages of Tauber’s fall from grace, such as June 12, 2005: I Met the Tree and I Fell in Love, August 16, 2006: The Tree Looks Hot with those Earrings, and February 16, 2007: The Tree Babies Have Arrived!!! Like any proud parent, the artist is jubilant when the tree has “babies” and, just like a teenager, even offers them for sale. But it is hard to be cynical about Tauber’s obsession, especially since he himself points us in that very direction. Is this love sick, or is he merely lovesick?
Joel Tauber at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
By Victoria Martin
In Sick-Amour, an exuberantly romantic exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, artist Joel Tauber commits himself to an absurd but obsessive relationship with a humble, somewhat scraggly sycamore tree, alone in the middle of an asphalt parking lot at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Without a trace of irony, he describes his at-first-sight love for the tree and, by means of an unabashed idealism, attempts to protect and serve his beloved. Hi boyish naivete has a serious motive however; it is to win us over, to make us also empathize with the tree, not really as it turns out, for the tree itself, but as a beleaguered symbol of our ignorant environmental neglect.
Tauber has previously taken on idiosyncratic projects – flying over the desert suspended from helium balloons while playing a bagpipe, and diving into the ocean to compose music with his body. Now, in an over-the-top manner, he places his heart-on-sleeve in videos that explore the tree and its wide-ranging metaphor.
The exhibition was comprised of three parts: the gallery show of large-scale color photos of the sycamore that surrounded twelve video monitors suspended from a central “tree” of black electric cable; the sycamore tree itself which Tauber is working to transform into a “tree museum” or “shrine”; and the ongoing project of fundraising to pay for and complete the shrine.
In the gallery, the video monitors also have headphones and on each monitor Tauber thrillingly describes a different aspect of the tree. These could be Shakespearean sonnets in prose – they describe, in worshipful detail, every facet of the beloved, including the deciduous nature of her leaves, the operations of her stomata, the diseases to which she is prone and has suffered, her root system, and her amazing ability to photosynthesize. The tree becomes valiantly stoic, facing not only storms, draught, and wind, but also clumsy pruning by the City of Pasadena, and worse still, the invasion of thousands of automobiles when there is a football game. She stands a silent but enduring sentinel not only to polluting traffic, but to branch-mangling busses, trucks and SUVs and the trash they bring, the oily waste water after a rain, and even to human sex (Tauber has found condoms at her base more than once).
The exhibition’s real work, however is the hard science and philosophy that Tauber inserts into his boyish and adoring monologues. The tree is a humble, yet heroic worker, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, absorbing pollutants, especially ozone and nitrogen oxide. The sycamore is “a charitable alchemist,” and a “model citizen.” “I am in awe of the tree,” he summarizes adoringly. But this innocence and lack of stridency is disarming; we too are beginning to appreciate the tree, lured in by her magical and generous gifts.
Naturally, the tree expands into a metaphor for Western perspectives on nature and the results that thinking has brought. One monitor summarizes the history of environmental attitudes beginning with the premodern world and moves through Biblical injunction, to Descartes, Kant, Hegel and then to the romantics, in whom Tauber finds soul mates. But he wisely doesn’t stop there, and moves on to the 1970s to completely embrace the emergence of a new environmental philosophy which radically proposes that an ethical order exists for the environment as well as for human affairs. This is the needed paradigm shift.
As for the “exhibit” of the tree itself, it now has four guardrails together with a small ground cover of mulch that Tauber installed himself guerrilla style, without permission. The fundraising is being conducted partly in conjunction with LA><ART, partly with the assistance of the Theodore Payne Foundation to sell sycamore seedlings, and partly with the gallery where photographs and sycamore related jewelry are for sale. From these efforts, Tauber hopes to be the gallant creator of a “tree shrine,” a 1,900-square-foot area of river rock and mulch surrounding his beloved sycamore, complete with “earrings” modeled after its seedpods and displaying educational plaques on its improved (and legal) guardrail.
Apparently willing to risk dismissal as a naïve, hopelessly romantic tree-hugger (of which he is indeed all three), Tauber actually positions himself quite defiantly. Subverting the traditional, macho male artist stance, he willingly subjects himself to what could be a hopeless and pitiful obsession. He is a willing slave to nature, i.e., the feminine. He has a considerable nerve to radically depart from current postmodern detachment and instead promote, even flaunt, his passion. Tauber further questions the nature of art itself, of art and its very beginnings as a human quest to understand nature, and radically proposes that art not imitate, but become nature. Is his tree museum public art or private obsession? Is the gallery exhibition actually art or is it only proselytizing in a clever sculptural form? Is environmental art the overlooked radical art of our time?
Most importantly, Tauber moves his art out from the hermetic and artificial world of the gallery into the real world of guerrilla tactics, mitigation, and negotiation (he has conferred with over a dozen representatives from horticulturalists and other scientists to representatives of the Rose Bowl and the City of Pasadena). Is he merely a modern day Don Quixote or Thoreau, or a transgressive eco-feminist? Whichever, he has extended both the parameters of art and of our understanding of the interdependency of all living things.
Regional Roundup: Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES, April 11, 2007—Our correspondent in Southern California takes us through some of the best museum and gallery exhibitions on view in Los Angeles this month, including a major feminist art show at MOCA, a gathering of the beautiful drawings of Vija Celmins, and an exhibition about one man’s crusade to improve the conditions of a sycamore tree.
Susanne Vielmetter (Los Angeles Projects)
“Joel Tauber: Sick-Amour”
Through April 28, 2007
By Lesley McCave
Most people use the term “tree hugger” in the metaphorical sense, but when it comes to Joel Tauber, the phrase takes a very real form. In a yearlong project, Tauber devoted himself to a lonely sycamore tree stuck in the middle of parking lot K at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
This solo exhibition, comprising photos of the tree, tree “jewelry,” and 12 video installations—arranged in a suitably tree-like layout—is a testament to Tauber’s quest to improve the tree’s living conditions. The love affair didn’t stop there, however. He worked to set up a museum in the tree’s honor under its canopy and even helped the tree reproduce. (The first experiments failed, but there was a happy ending when Tauber ultimately succeeded in growing 71 “tree babies”).
The photographs show the tree looking rather forlorn in its parking-lot prison, while the video footage is fascinating, telling a different story on each screen, highlighting the threats faced by living things in urban areas and detailing Tauber’s efforts on behalf of his “Sick-Amour.” Simultaneously, the project seems altruistic and selfish: Why save one tree when there are bigger issues to face? Why save only one tree? Yet somehow Tauber draws us in, making us empathize with his obsession for his tree.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Must See Art
Paul McCarthy lecture at the UCLA Hammer Museum and
“Sick-Amour” by Joel Tauber at Susanne Vielmetter
“Sick-Amour” by Joel Tauber at Susanne Vielmetter
By Amra Brooks
Entering into Joel Tauber’s installation at Susanne Vielmetter is like watching a maniacal obsessive-compulsive actually do something productive with his disorder. Inspired by the Persian emperor Xerxes (who fell in love with a tree, adorned it with ornaments and assigned it a protective guard), Tauber has adopted a sycamore in the Rose Bowl parking lot. Tauber narrates the entire experience in a neurotic, Muppet-like voice on video monitors throughout the gallery, illustrating a blatantly romantic relationship with his chosen tree, as well as the ins and outs of the legal process involved in saving it. One of the most humorous and heroic pieces of this elaborate puzzle is a video of Tauber, dressed as a city worker, jackhammering the blacktop below the sycamore and installing tree guards to protect it from being hit by cars. Tauber’s project has received a lot of attention, and the city of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl are working with him. You can make donations to help support the tree and Tauber’s project by contacting email@example.com.
March 17 – April 28, 2007 at Susanne Vielmetter, Los Angeles Projects, Culver City
By Diane Calder
Even collectors adept at making room for new acquisitions might think twice before agreeing to take in one of Joel Tauber’s seedlings. The sprouts start small, but Platanus racemosa have been known to soar to heights of 90 feet. And welcoming them into the family would be no short-term commitment. In their native riparian habitat, given sufficient sun, water and nutrients, California sycamores can thrive for upwards of 150 years.
How the bespectacled Tauber–more closely resembling Clark Kent than heavyweight performance artists such as Chris Burden or Martin Kersels–became such an avid advocate of the California sycamore that he repeatedly scammed the cops and risked prosecution in defense of his favorite tree, is a long story. How he campaigns, via art and advocacy, to locate nurturing homes for its progeny continues the tale. Luckily, Tauber captured a good deal of this on video. You can see and hear him conscientiously make the argument that sycamores combat greenhouse gasses to efficiently clean and cool the air; Tauber does everything in his power to defend his tree’s standing.
Joel Tauber has a history of throwing himself wholeheartedly into quixotic quests for the unattainable. In projects that investigate the intersections between electronic media and various other modes of art making, the Art Center MFA grad and USC video instructor pushes himself to extremes. Tauber ducked beneath the surface of the sea for his three-channel video, “The Underwater Project: Turning Myself Into Music.” He played a bagpipe while soaring aloft tethered to helium balloons for a work that brought him considerable attention at the 2004 California Biennial, “Searching For The Impossible: The Flying Project.”
In his newest undertaking, “Sick-Amour” (Tree Project), Tauber documents his dedication to the preservation of one lone California sycamore. The artist mounts his twelve-channel video production, and the wires that carry the juice to empower it, in a manner that mirrors and memorializes the form and function of the maligned Platanus racemosa that has stolen his heart. That tree resembled an abandoned poster child when Tauber originally caught sight of it. Thirsty, rudely pruned and infested with insects, the forlorn sycamore struggled for survival surrounded by asphalt in parking lot K of Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.
Since initially being drawn to the tree on a perfect June day in 2005, Tauber has ardently dedicated himself to loving, honoring, protecting and producing works of art about his lonely sycamore in ways that might strike your average tree hugger as obsessive. He has hauled in gallons of water, chiseled away asphalt from around its trunk and fabricated tree guards to protect his treasure from hits by moving vehicles. When Tauber’s efforts on behalf of his tree went unappreciated by Rose Bowl officials, he persevered and negotiated a plan to clear a 400 square foot area of pavement from its base to accommodate a “museum” containing commemorative and guardian stones. “I’m using the tree as a symbol for the way we are environmentally,” Tauber confesses. “The world is becoming a big parking lot. I’m trying to get at the issues about how we can treat the living things, these green things in urban jungles without being too didactic.”
The outright kookiness that Tauber projects into his discussions of Romanticism, Utilitarianism and Environmental Ethics updates Will Rogers’ knack for using homespun humor to draw attention to critical issues. Like successful entertainers everywhere, Tauber has an uncanny sense of timing. He captures still images at opportune moments, effectively incorporates still photography into moving imagery and appreciates time’s fluid nature, stretching it out or speeding its passage appropriately to underscore his intentions. Tauber habitually reaches back in time to pull out historic figures, joining the legacy of others gripped by a cause. The ancient Persian ruler Xerxes, who purportedly so loved a particular sycamore that he adorned the tree with golden ornaments and himself with an amulet bearing it’s image, inspired Tauber to create his own tree jewelry.
There is no lack of acknowledgement of the voices of contemporary artists in Tauber’s work. We are reminded of Alfredo Jaar’s interest in workers and the conditions under which they labor, Ed Ruscha’s early photos of parking lots; Christo’s encounters with governmental agencies; and Kim Abeles’ dedicated efforts in support of the environment. With these references and more, Tauber demonstrates his understanding of a declaration by Hegel cited in “Sick-Amour” and noting that the way in which we perceive the natural world is shaped by our culture and language. Tauber comes at this with such zeal that it is clear he believes the reverse also to be true.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
March 30, 2007
Joel Tauber’s Rose Bowl sycamore project rooted in obsession.
Joel Tauber’s latest combines conceptual rigor, humor, social critique and ecological preservation.
By Holly Myers, Special to The Times
In an era of near-epidemic distraction, with media, advertising and various technological gadgets drawing the attention of the average individual in a dozen different directions at any given moment, the visual arts have become a haven for what may prove a radical, even profound, form of resistance: unmitigated obsession. In art, as in few other disciplines, one is free — even encouraged — to cultivate a whim and pursue it with singular purpose, far beyond the bounds of logic, practicality or the typical consumer’s attention span.
Few artists in recent memory exploit the potential of obsession as thoroughly, or as winningly, as Joel Tauber. His quixotic “Sick-Amour,” an ongoing public project that he’s configured into a gallery exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, manages to combine conceptual rigor, humor, social critique and ecological preservation — all within the scope of one rather peculiar fixation.
The unlikely object of Tauber’s obsession is a sycamore tree in the parking lot of the Pasadena Rose Bowl. Likening himself to the Persian emperor Xerxes, who was said to have so loved a particular sycamore that he adorned the tree with jewelry and assigned it a bodyguard, Tauber has launched a one-man campaign — initially guerrilla-style, now assisted by several nonprofits (principally LAXART), Rose Bowl officials and the city of Pasadena — to rescue the tree from neglect, memorialize its plight and celebrate its unsung contribution to the community. The goal is to pull up 1,900 square feet of asphalt around the tree, which hadn’t even a curb’s worth of protection when Tauber found it, replace it with a layer of mulch and turn the space into an outdoor “tree museum.”
The exhibition at Vielmetter, besides documenting the public aspect of the project (as well as presumably raising money for it), also enriches it considerably. As compelling as the endeavor is on a conceptual level, it’s the presence of Tauber’s fervent, somewhat neurotic, irresistibly endearing voice, captured in monologues on each of the installation’s 12 video monitors, that give it its breadth, depth and heart. The installation is fashioned to resemble a tree, with the monitors suspended like fruit on branches made from black plastic tubing. Two long, painted foam and resin “earrings” also dangle from the branches, while nearby Tauber displays jewelry intended for humans: leaf pendants, fruit ball earrings, and a locket containing seeds from the tree, all cast in gold. Large, handsome photographs of the tree are posted around the gallery.
Each monitor features a loop of tree-related footage and a voice-over discussing some aspect of the project. The breadth is impressive.
In one, Tauber surveys the history of environmental philosophy. In another, he discusses the tree’s cellular composition, citing the cabala while pondering his inability to penetrate the tree’s essential nature. In another, he describes the various pests and fungi that threaten its well-being, the most despised of which, from his perspective, is the lace bug, which colonizes the leaves in vast numbers, extracts nutrients and deposits feces. (“I still can’t get over that,” he cries. “What audacity!”)
More impressive, however, is the ease with which he winds this information into his personal experience with the tree, and the passion that underlies his portrayal of that experience. He relates his joy at the appearance of springtime buds, his horror at returning to the lot one day to find the tree roughly pruned, his scorn for the buses that jostle the branches during a football game and his empathy, inspired by the discovery of numerous used condoms, for the tree’s profound isolation.
This sympathy — informed, he says, by his own unmarried, childless status — inspired a zealous attempt to help facilitate the tree’s reproduction. With the help of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, he succeeded on the second try, producing 71 “tree babies” in February. (“This is one of the greatest days of my life,” he relates breathlessly.)
These monologues tip, occasionally, into something like parody, but they never feel the least insincere. Tauber is clearly aware of the absurdity of his quest, but aware also of the strategic advantage that absurdity offers — in disarming the habitual defenses of his potential viewers, for instance, and jarring them into thinking differently about so familiar an object.
In the den of distraction that is the Rose Bowl parking lot, his obsession functions as a sort of spotlight, illuminating, through the tree, our dysfunctional relationship with nature. And after a while, his conviction comes to seem rather more sane than blanketing the earth with asphalt.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
March 10, 2007
Crawling into the woodwork
Pasadena artist goes out on a limb
A tree in the Rose Bowl parking lot has become the project and passion of artist Joel Tauber.
By Sharon Mizota, Special to The Times
Artist Joel Tauber was captivated the first time he laid eyes on the little sycamore in the middle of the Rose Bowl parking lot. “It struck me on a metaphorical level,” he says. “It just seemed like this forgotten figure in this sea of asphalt, and that seemed indicative of where we are environmentally.”
Since that day two years ago, Tauber has devoted his life and art to the tree. He began watering it and installed metal railings to protect it from cars. Now he is helping it reproduce. With the assistance of the Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of native California plants, he has collected its seeds and grown “tree babies.”
Tauber has documented his efforts with similar dedication. Titled “Sick-Amour,” the project includes a documentary film, a video installation and, most ambitiously, a permanent “tree museum.” The plan for the latter calls for replacing the asphalt in a roughly 1,900-square-foot rectangle around the tree with mulch and river stones, to increase oxygen and water flow. A “necklace” of boulders will protect the tree and display educational plaques. To top it off, Tauber has sculpted a whimsical pair of “earrings” to hang from the branches.
“When he told me that he had fallen in love with a tree, I wasn’t surprised,” says Susanne Vielmetter, whose Culver City gallery represents Tauber. In previous projects the L.A.-based artist has transposed underwater diving into music and flown over the desert suspended from helium balloons while playing a bagpipe. “You think it’s funny and a little nutty, and sweet,” Vielmetter continued, but “Sick-Amour” really addresses a much larger issue, “in this case, fundamentally, what our relationship to nature is.”
The video installation, which will have its debut at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects on March 17, consists of 12 segments. Arranged in the shape of a tree, each is a personal meditation on some aspect of the sycamore. In one, Tauber lauds the tree as an “invisible worker” thanklessly cleaning the air and Earth; in another he laments the pests that attack it, comparing their exploits to the abuses of capitalism. Backed by scientific research and narrated in a passionate, though often humorous, voice, Tauber’s videos urge viewers to consider the environ-mental toll of urban development and to better care for the natural features that survive within it.
“I think of it as a modern, video ‘Walden,’ ” he ventures, referring to Henry David Thoreau’s treatise on nature and society, “but not out in the wilderness, out in a parking lot.”
Accordingly, “Sick-Amour” has far-reaching ethical and philosophical goals. The tree is “something that I’m striving to understand in as full a way as possible, and that process brings me very close to it,” Tauber says. “If you understand the other — whether it’s the divine or someone else — that allows empathy to occur, and it allows a place for some kind of spiritual connection and love.” In asking people to empathize with the struggles of a single tree, he hopes to instill in them a heartfelt sense of responsibility, not only to the environment but also to one another.
For Tauber, Rose Bowl Parking Lot K is an example of what happens when people shirk this responsibility. Traversed on a Tuesday afternoon by the occasional jogger and a fire engine practicing maneuvers, the lot is an asphalt peninsula between the hills and the concrete-lined Arroyo Seco river. The “Sick-Amour” tree stands not far from the entrance, at Seco Street and West Drive, and the Rose Bowl has already replaced a 400-square-foot area of pavement around it with mulch.
Tauber, compact and energetic, strides enthusiastically around a wider perimeter that he hopes will contain the tree museum.
Getting this far has been a daunting bureaucratic undertaking, involving coordination with the Rose Bowl, the city of Pasadena and LAXART, a nonprofit arts organization that is helping with fundraising. But Tauber says he has met with surprisingly little resistance.
Vice Mayor Steve Madison, an early supporter, sees the project as emblematic of Pasadena’s movement toward becoming a “green” city. “I thought it was a neat idea that this one tree could be symbolic of trees in Pasadena and open space,” he says. Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn is open-minded but cautious: “We still have to function as a stadium, but we’re trying to integrate his vision with our need to have a parking lot.” The plan requires approval from the Rose Bowl’s board of directors, which is scheduled to review it later this spring.
Still, fundraising for the project, which Tauber estimates will cost $22,000, has been challenging. “We’ve been coming up against perceptions of what constitutes art, what is public art,” says Lauri Firstenberg, LAXART’s director and curator. “We’ve been diversifying our approach.”
Tauber has solicited donations and says he plans to use proceeds from the sale of the tree babies and an edition of earrings — for humans, made of gold-plated leaves and fruit from the tree — to help fund the museum.
In the meantime, his beloved sycamore has sprouted new leaves and fruit. Tauber says, “It’s a beautiful tree, and people are drawn to it. It’s casting its spell.”
By Emma Gray
Joel Tauber doesn’t have anything particular against tree pruners. But two years ago, after observing the savage defoliation of a sycamore nearly engulfed by tarmac, something clicked. “The tree looked really lonely and forlorn,” Tauber explains. “It seemed emblematic of where we are: the world is becoming this big parking lot and the wilderness is disappearing.” And with that, he turned into a vigilante eco-activist – a rebel with a tree-hugging cause.
Engaging in a guerilla gardening campaign and impersonating a civic worker to save a sycamore from urban blight is all in a day’s work for Tauber, a video artist and art professor at USC. He fell madly and quite spectacularly in love with the tree, now the subject of Sick Amour, his exhibition this month at Culver City’s Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects gallery.
Comprising a series of filmed vignettes in a 12-channel video installation, Sick Amour manages to be both funny and heartbreaking. One piece pointedly illuminates how the tree can’t procreate, a bitter irony evidenced by the discarded condoms Tauber finds on his daily watering missions. Others reveal important ecological info, like the tree’s ability to absorb 100 pounds of carbon dioxide a year and turn it into oxygen.
Arboreal romance, however absurd that sounds, doesn’t begin to hint at the antic nature of Tauber’s previous projects; the artist assumes a position somewhere between extreme sportsman, eco-warrior and naturalist monk on a mission to connect the dots of life’s many unanswered Big Questions. He has buried himself seven times in order to get closer to God and nature. He has flown 150 feet above the ground suspended by helium balloons while playing the bagpipes – a homage of sorts to Eilmer, a fifteenth-century monk. And Tauber has gone scuba-diving 40 times in order to chart his depths as a means of “becoming music.”
For the time being, let’s simply call him a video artist – a stripped-down environmentalist version of early Matthew Barney. Tauber can be as poignantly eccentric as German performance jester John Bock, and as profound as Joseph Beuys. There is a performance element to his work, but that is just the camera following him on his missions, which, like Barney’s personal-transformation odysseys, are spiritual voyages. Tauber’s final products, however, are more akin to insightful public television documentaries than Hollywood epics.
It seems perfectly fitting, then, that the artist should live in a cave (a rock face provides the central ballast to his Eagle Rock apartment) just a short hop from the Hollywood Hills. He’s like a character straight out of a Wes Anderson film, and there really isn’t much he hasn’t done in the pursuit of contemporary art.
The Design Magazine
A Sycamour Affair…
The love story of Joel Tauber and his lonely sycamore.
By Erica Blodgett
Joel Tauber is a modern day Don Quixote. But instead of tilting at windmills to win the hand of the fair Dulcinea, this Eagle Rock artist is battling the urban jungle and making a public statement about the condition of our environment and his adoration of a single sycamore tree. Against the backdrop of one of Southern California’s most iconic landmarks, Tauber has literally been chipping away the concrete veneer of the city and getting his hands dirty in the ancient earth of the Arroyo Seco.
“It’s a love story,” Tauber, 34, says of his latest project. Part public art piece, part video art installation, “Sick-Amour” chronicles the Boston-born artist’s relationship with a California sycamore that seemed to call to him from across the Rose Bowl parking lot one day after a swim at the nearby aquatic center. It also documents the probably noble, possibly crazy actions he has taken in an attempt to realize a new landscape and save one tree.
Tauber, who teaches video art at the University of Southern California, cannot quite explain why he latched on to this particular specimen since there are certainly other trees in the lot. “It struck me as this really lonely figure,” he shares. And as is often the case when one finds a soul mate, the scars and flaws on the tree’s exterior did not lessen his attraction. Insects, fungus, and mildew could not deter true love. Instead, they became the catalyst that launched Tauber on his two-year quest to save this sycamore, improve its lot in life, and document his experiences.
The first of his impossible tasks was to bring life back to the dehydrated tree. All alone and without permission he began watering the tree, hauling 60-gallon bags of water to the tree in the back of his small, white pick-up truck. Unlike the man of la Mancha, Tauber has been alone throughout most of his adventure, no faithful Sancho Panza riding at his side supporting his mission. Along the way he has encountered friend and foe, but in the end it is usually just he and the tree against the world.
When his calls to the Rose Bowl administration went unanswered, he boldly brandished a jackhammer in broad daylight and did a little unauthorized construction. Clad in an orange jumpsuit he must have cut an interesting figure as he installed rail guards around the tree to protect it from charging cars. While the railings became a favorite spot for joggers to stretch and football tailgaters to pile their trash, Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn says they did not really appreciate Tauber’s actions. But it certainly got their attention.
“There’s something to be said for passion and creativity and trying to make a difference,” Dunn says of Tauber’s dedication. He admits that in his long career with the Rose Bowl he has never been confronted with this particular complaint – the health of a parking lot tree. It was also probably a first when Tauber hung giant replicas of the tree’s seeds off its limbs for a photo shoot and called them “earrings”. Gallant and chivalrous, provocative and educational, or ridiculous and incomprehensible, Tauber’s actions are certainly one of a kind.
“It’s supposed to be a little funny, but it’s a way to get at a serious issue with a little bit of humor,” Tauber admits. He says he has always been a fan of the classic fools in literature, like Don Quixote, who go to absurd extremes for the things they are passionate about and to send a message. “I’m trying to get at the issues about how we can treat the living things, these green things in urban jungles without being too didactic.”
Certainly his antics have been outrageous, but Tauber maintains he has never misrepresented himself. He has gotten attention for himself and the tree and that has helped open doors with Pasadena city officials and the Rose Bowl leadership.
This is not the first time he has used his art to make symbolic statements about the world. In a previous video art piece, Tauber, who has an M.F.A. from Pasadena Art Center, chronicled his flight over the desert clad all in white playing the bagpipes while attached to giant white balloons. It was meant to illustrate how music really can make a person fly.
The next challenge in the quest to save the sycamore has Tauber championing plans for what he likes to call a “tree museum”, a mini-park of sorts under the tree’s canopy. The Rose Bowl has already cleared 400 square feet of asphalt from under the tree. Tauber would like to see that expanded to 1600 square feet with gravel covering the bare earth to allow for parking and irrigation. Along the tree he will lay a necklace and earrings of boulders with plaques describing the environmental and artistic history and intention of the piece. It would be a model of what Tauber thinks all parking lots could be and certainly a pedestal on which to place his loved one.
The battle is not yet won. The 2006 football season slowed down any negotiation and progress on the park. Dunn says that ultimately Tauber will have a chance to make his case to the Board of Directors, but that the primary use of the area around the tree is for parking cars and any changes to the tree’s environment cannot compromise the use of the space for that purpose.
Throughout his love affair, Tauber has also become concerned with the legacy of the tree. With only a few square feet of dirt under the tree’s canopy there was very little space for any seeds to take root and grow. “It had no possibilities of any lineage and that was very sad,” Tauber laments. He tried cloning the tree through cuttings, but finally turned to an ally for assistance. With the help of Holliday Wagner, Nursery Manager at the Theodore Payne Foundation, Tauber is out to grow “tree babies with this season’s fertile seeds.
“As a symbol it’s fun,” Wagner says of Tauber’s undertaking and his hopes for the sycamore’s offspring. “I think it’s a good story.” Once the seeds are ripe, Wagner will help Tauber plant them and hope they germinate. If the seedlings take root, Tauber plans to sell the babies at his art shows and at other events. As to where the next generation ends up, Tauber says, “Anywhere outside the Arroyo would be fine.”
Not only has Tauber been alone in his mission, he has, for the most part, been without a patron, no financial support in his efforts to rehabilitate the tree. So to further his cause and share his love with the world he has created a video record of his efforts. Debuting at the Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects gallery in Culver City in March and traveling on to the Adamski Gallery in Germany, “Sick-Amour” includes a series of documentary style videos in which Tauber explores the evolution of his project, environmental philosophy, pollution and the ecosystem, and the human impact on the tree. He will even arrange the video monitors in the shape of the tree.
“I’m using the tree as a symbol for the way we are environmentally,” Tauber explains. “The world is becoming a big parking lot.” He wants to honor his muse by extolling the virtues of its place in the ecosystem. For instance, he says he feels guilty when he drives his truck to visit the tree, but feels that the tree is saving him. “Our health and the health of our cities are connected to the tree,” Tauber believes. “The tree is a saint.”
He says that often his friends do not know whether to laugh at him or not, but that in general people do seem to understand his work, his passion, and his quest. And while we may never live up to his dream of treating every parking lot tree with such adoration and respect, those who come to know Tauber and his fair Dulcinea may think twice when they look for a shady spot on a hot Southern California day beneath the verdant leaves of a lonely sycamore tree.
February 19, 2007
THE “IT” FACTOR
What makes something hot? Is mojo something more that a contact high? Is that buzz something other than the faint rustle of money? The New Museum plans to delve into the question with a panel titled “The ‘It’ Factor: What Makes Something Hot?” at the Great Hall of the Cooper Union on Mar. 28, 2007. We here at Artnet Magazine decided to give the panelists a hand, and solicit responses to the question from our friends and contributors. Herewith, the results:
Emma Gray, critic: The Man Who Fell in Love with a Tree, Joel Tauber, who shows with Susanne Vielmetter in Los Angeles, represents a new kind of artist. His work encompasses a quest for God, nature and the desperate state of the environment while being outrageously funny, absurd and poignant. For more details, see www.joeltauber.com
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The new, weird counterculture
By Doug Harvey
Another project that encompasses many of these oddball extremes into one messy parcel involves a romance between a video professor and a sycamore tree. For the last year or so, Joel Tauber has been keeping a record of his infatuation with — and actions on behalf of — a single undernourished Platanus racemosa in the Rose Bowl parking lot. Teetering on (and often careening over) the brink of foolishness, Tauber’s obsessive, absurdist reduction of think-global-act-local has nonetheless progressed from the vigilante civic pranksterism of installing guardrailing to prevent car-bashing to the point where the city of Pasadena, Rose Bowl officials and numerous art-world institutions have joined in to correct the imbalance between nature and culture — at least in the 400 square feet surrounding the lonesome sycamore.
While Tauber’s postmodern multimedia translation of A Charlie Brown Christmas also incorporates the decoration of the tree with giant earrings (in emulation of the ancient Persian monarch Xerxes, no less) and a tree-shaped multichannel video installation scheduled for Susanne Vielmetter’s in the spring, it is the steadfast, visionary stewardship of his initially solitary creative engagement with the tree — and the story of how it blossomed and flourished — that gives the project its metaphorical political wallop. It’s the art and politics of the alienated and funny, earnest and mystified individual, who cries, “I may not know art, but I know what I want and I know how to get it.”
JOEL TAUBER: Sick-Amour | www.joeltauber.com
On October 11, 2006, KNBC broadcast a story about Sick-Amour on one of their Los Angeles news shows, “The Local Story” on digital cable channel 4.4 as well as on www.nbc4.tv.
Here’s a transcript of the story:
Ross Becker: Right now. Right now there is a man sitting in a tree in the parking lot at the Rose Bowl. There he is. Now normally this would not be big news or even significant in any way. But it becomes a local story if you understand why, or in the words of the man in that tree, Joel Tauber, what’s at stake. And that’s why he’s sitting in that tree and nurturing that tree. You see, Joel has adopted this tree in the Rose Bowl parking lot. And, Joel is obviously live with us right now up in the tree that he adopted. Joel, let’s start at the beginning here. This tree was in the parking lot, surrounded by automobiles, surrounded by asphalt, and you thought it was going to die, and you stepped in.
Joel Tauber: That’s exactly right. This tree… I noticed it, and it struck me as a really powerful symbol in terms of where we are environmentally. The world is becoming a big parking lot, the wilderness is disappearing, and there are a lot of people who are starting to talk about how we need to take care of things stuck in our urban jungles as opposed to just trying to take care of things in some remote wildernesses. So, I looked at this tree, and it struck me as really beautiful, but it seemed very forlorn and lonely. It was disconnected from the river, which is only 100 feet from it, but it may as well be miles away because of the asphalt and the concrete that’s lining the river. And it was disconnected from other trees, and it was disconnected from the soil and from the water and oxygen due to the asphalt. And that struck me as a pretty horrible thing, but it was also very common, and I wanted to do something about it.
Ross Becker: It was an orphan.
Joel Tauber: Yes, it was an orphan, and it had no chance to reproduce either. It tries. It creates flowers. And, it tries very hard to reproduce, but it had no chance on its own. There’s a lot of pathos hidden in this tree.
Ross Becker: So, what have you done for this tree, to nurse it back to health and to make it a healthy symbol?
Joel Tauber: I started by watering the tree. I brought these very large water bags, 20 gallon water bags, and put a series of them around the tree. And, I would do that pretty often to try to give it the water that the asphalt was keeping from it. Then I put in tree guards in order to protect it from cars. Because cars were hitting the tree and buses were hitting the tree because not everyone was noticing it when they were driving. And that was really horrible. So we put those tree guards in, and that was preventing it from getting hit by cars. And, there’s been really wonderful people in the City of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. Darryl Dunn, the General Manager of the Rose Bowl, and Jess Waiters agreed to help me out with this project. And, we removed the asphalt around the tree, 400 square feet, just recently, in order to construct a monument or a museum about this tree. There will be a boulder necklace (if the design is approved) in order to celebrate the tree and highlight its beauty.
Ross Becker: Did you think one guy had this much power?
Joel Tauber: I am very happy that the charm of the tree … that other people are seeing it as well.
Ross Becker: Joel, you got to admit to me, though. I am sure that some of your friends, in some of your circles, when you told them that you were going to adopt a tree at the Rose Bowl, they looked at you a little askew, didn’t they?
Joel Tauber: Yes, it is slightly odd. I totally understand that. At the same time, things that are odd aren’t necessarily wrong. In fact, oftentimes, they can make a lot of sense after initial impressions. I’ve had a lot of support from so many people, all kinds of people from the environmental activist community and the arts community, and just a lot of people from Pasadena and elsewhere. The key, I think, is that I’m just trying to call attention to this tree. Really we should be looking at all trees in parking lots and elsewhere. There’s so much going on with them. If we paid more attention to them, maybe we would give them more love. And they can help us out. This one tree cleans 5 pounds of air pollution itself each year.
Ross Becker: One last thing, how would you counsel future tree foster parents?
Joel Tauber: That’s really funny. It would be great if there are as many tree foster parents as possible. And, just follow your heart. Open your eyes to the beautiful trees.
Ross Becker: Joel Tauber sitting in the tree he’s adopted. I don’t want to call it his tree because it’s our tree and it’s in the parking lot by the Rose Bowl. Drive by and take a look at it. Please don’t hit it. Joel, thank you so much for your efforts. It looks like the leaves are turning. It obviously is Fall. Thank you so much.
Pasadena Star News
Wednesday October 4, 2006
Front Page, Lead Story
His Tree of Life
Artist tends to lone sycamore in Rose Bowl parking lot
By Janette Williams Staff Writer
PASADENA – Of all the sycamore trees in all the parking lots in all the world, why did Joel Tauber fall for this one in Lot K at the Rose Bowl?
“Why do you fall in love with a particular person? Why do you care for a particular pet?” mused the artist, who is making the tree the centerpiece of a permanent art installation. “It’s just this tree …”
About 15 months ago, Tauber, 34, started his one-man effort to use the single platanus racemosa platanaceae, marooned in acres of blacktop, as a symbol of the barren urban environment and show how the smallest efforts can improve it.
He noticed the 25-year-old tree, looking forlorn, on his trips to the nearby AAF Rose Bowl Aquatics Center. Then he watered it, using 20-gallon water bags, and built tree guards to protect it from cars. Then he branched out.
“Environmental philosophers have moved from trying to save the wilderness to trying to care for things stuck in our urban jungles,” said Tauber, an Art Center College of Design graduate who lives in Eagle Rock and teaches video art at USC. “So I started by watering this tree.”
His plans have preliminary support from the city and Rose Bowl officials – who even removed a 17-by-24-foot section of blacktop around the tree for him.
Now he has designed a minipark around the sycamore, complete with a “necklace” of 18 white and red rocks, each to have a plaque telling the tree’s story “from the microscopic level of pathogens like anthracnose fungus to lacebugs and powdery mildew to all it does for the environment,” Tauber said. Plus some dangling earring sculptures for special occasions.
The whole effort will cost about $14,000, partly out of his pocket and partly in grants from arts organizations.
Dressing up the tree in earrings and a necklace isn’t an entirely original idea, Tauber said. He got it from an old story that tells of Xerxes, the ancient Persian king, who so loved a particular sycamore that he adorned it with golden ornaments and gave it its own royal bodyguard.
“Xerxes,” Tauber said. “So he invaded Greece – he’s still a hero of mine.”
Darryl Dunn, general manager at the Rose Bowl, said Tauber was “passionate” about the tree. “And fortunately the tree he’s trying to enhance is already in good health, although it is in the parking lot,” Dunn said.
After talking to Tauber and city officials, Dunn said, everyone at the Rose Bowl has done their best to find a way for Tauber to “attain his goals” while maintaining parking spots.
“I think, overall, to people who come to the Rose Bowl, who park early and tailgate, it will be a reminder of the fact that we are in a park,” Dunn said. “But there is a functionality issue. It is a parking lot.”
Jonathon Glus, the city’s executive arts director, likes the idea that Tauber’s project, as described to him, addresses the idea of “nature engulfed in a man-made environment.”
Not all Rose Bowl visitors are aware of the importance of its site in the Arroyo Seco, Glus said, “so this is a small way to address that and remind us that we’re borrowing the space.”
In more practical terms, Tauber’s plan highlights both the plight of parking-lot trees and the need for them, Councilman Sid Tyler said.
“What he’s doing is something pretty unique … imagination is a wonderful thing, to the extent to which it has a constructive community message,” Tyler said.
May Lohan, who comes to the Rose Bowl twice a week with her Chihuahuas, Maxwell and Romeo, said she likes the idea of a little park among the parking spaces.
“I think it will be wonderful,” she said. “But I’ll have to keep my dogs away – they have a tendency to, um, mark their territory.”
Excerpts from “Cities of the Plain”, a radio documentary produced by Bill Drummond for Soundprint. On June 2, 2006, the story began airing on over 180 public radio stations nationwide.
SFX: Cheer from USC Fight Song
DRUMMOND: Just north of Los Angeles in the city of Pasadena, sits the Rose Bowl against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. There a drama was acted out to save a single sycamore tree. It’s not just any tree. It happens to be located in the parking lot at the Rose Bowl stadium.
SFX: Sneak in Music of USC Fight On song, fade under, HOLD
DRUMMOND: While millions of Americans watched Texas play USC in the Rose Bowl, video artist Joel Tauber was in the stadium parking lot, tape recording his thoughts about the vulnerability of the tree.
TAUBER: January 19, 2006, the Rose Bowl game is the biggest event that happens around the tree each year. There are probably 200 thousand people there at the game, so many people I couldn’t believe it, so much excitement about the football game.
DRUMMOND: Tauber does not represent an environmental organization. He’s an artist making a statement, trying to persuade officials to put a higher value on trees. Tauber appointed himself guardian of this humble sycamore tree and over time tape-recorded all he observed:
TAUBER: I was interested to see how the game would impact the tree. And there definitely were some very significant impacts. Thank god the guards were there. And if the guards weren’t there, it probably would have been hit some more. As it is, it was hit by the tops of the buses. The top of the canopy of the tree was getting hit by the buses.
SFX FADE OUT USC FIGHT ON, ESTABLISH OUTDOOR AMBIENCE, HOLD UNDER FOLLOWING SECTION
DRUMMOND: Just north of the Rose Bowl is Pasadena’s famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And to the west is the Scholl Canyon landfill and to the east is the Pasadena Freeway. The manicured greens of the golf course lie to the south. You wouldn’t call this an underserved neighborhood. Instead, it is a perfect microcosm of Southern California in the 21st Century. Big science, big sports and big waste—landfills and golf courses. In the loneliness of the parking lot, Tauber used his audio diary to describe the tree:
TAUBER: We live in an age of the invisible worker. So much of the really important stuff that is done today is done by people who don’t get the credit that they deserve. The tree is one of those invisible workers. It cleans our air. It doesn’t just provide us oxygen through photosynthesis. It actually cleans the air that we ruin by polluting it.
TAUBER: Jan. 19, 2006, well today I picked up another condom that was sitting by the tree pit of my tree. It’s really interesting because it seems like there’s a lot of sexual activity surrounding the tree. People like to park by the tree and people like to have sex by the tree. I don’t know why that is, but it’s going on.
DRUMMOND: As an artist, Tauber can afford to be exuberant about his attachment to this tree. But in a more subdued way many scientists, economists and environmentalists all echo the same passion. They all say trees are heroes of the urban environment.
TAUBER: Well, the fact that it’s intercepting all that water is a good thing not just for the tree, although it needs water, but it’s good for us, because it’s intercepting the water and that prevents more runoff.
DRUMMOND: Tauber convinced officials of the city and the Rose Bowl to do the right thing by the tree. They said they would erect a permanent protective barrier and irrigate the sycamore with water from the golf course. Tauber’s efforts resulted in a small encroachment on the preserve of the automobile. A portion of a parking lot gave way to a tree. Tauber said his campaign made him look like a Don Quixote, but he makes no apologies.
TAUBER: Don Quixote. Perhaps he was insane, perhaps he was not. There’s a lot of nobility to Don Quixote’s actions. He was living in a time outside the age of chivalry. And, he’s trying to do this idealistic thing – these ideals of chivalry – when everyone thinks he’s an idiot.
DRUMMOND: Another artist, the Frenchman Marcel Proust, once observed:
“We have nothing to fear and much to learn from trees.” Even through Proust was unfamiliar with California, his advice is well taken. Californians are bracing for global climate changes that will make water more scarce than it is now. It’s only natural that new proposals for planting millions of leafy non-native trees in parched California would invite some skepticism. But urban foresters think Proust was right. “We have nothing to fear and much to learn from trees.”
Excerpts from “FORMAT. Los Angeles 2005: Valdes, Ruben Ochoa, Lori Shindler, Joel Tauber, Kaz Oshiro, Adria Julia”, a 30 minute documentary produced by Swedish Television. On October 18, 2005, scenes from “The Flying Project” and “The Underwater Project” as well as an interview in “the cave” were broadcast on Swedish Television and aired in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.
Scenes from Joel Tauber’s “Searching for The Impossible: The Flying Project.” Tauber flies overhead beneath 40 helium balloons, while playing the bagpipes. Cut to Tauber jumping off a rock, trying to fly.
“Joel Tauber: Ett Med Musiken”
FLYING PROJECT: On November 15, 2001, I tried some new flying strategies. I spent more time on each attempt preparing myself mentally to fly, and I leapt from greater heights than I had previously. A small but deep pond cushioned me after each failure, but I was not comforted. By the end of the day, I could not try anymore. I broke down and cried, as I realized that I could not fly without mechanical assistance.
TAUBER IN THE CAVE: I made a decision that flight was not just about physics or science. Maybe it was about something beyond physics. So, I started looking at a bunch of people who I consider to be fools. But, I think being a fool is a good thing. Fools don’t take conventional thinking to heart. They try to explore other things.
FLYING PROJECT: I found inspiration in a drawing by Pierre Blanchard made in 1781…. It is the musical inspiration that can drive the machine. Only by entering the holy space of music, the space that is beyond the physics of the ship’s construction, can the pilot take his boat on the metaphysical voyage of flight.
TAUBER IN THE CAVE: That must be it. Music is the key to flight. Music is a metaphysical tool. [Blanchard] made a drawing… I decided to actually make it happen.
FLYING PROJECT: I wanted to fly with helium balloons, but I wanted music and breath to power this flight. My theory was that breath plus music plus forty 6-foot helium balloons would equal flight. The bagpipe was critical for this equation to work. The bagpipe is the only instrument that I am aware of where you can make music by squeezing a balloon…. I had to learn to play the bagpipe. Not only that…. I had to learn to play it horizontally….
I did not just inflate the balloons with helium; I inflated the balloons with music….
I was scared that I would not be able to fly. I was also scared that if I could fly, I would not be able to come down….
It was the most amazing experience of my life, but I have not yet completely succeeded in flying like I dreamed.
A number of scenes from “The Flying Project” accompany the narration, culminating in Tauber’s flight.
Scenes from Joel Tauber’s “The Underwater Project: Turning Myself Into Music”
TAUBER IN THE CAVE: In my flying project, I was trying to explore the sky, trying to do that in my own particular way. In my underwater project, I tried to explore what was going on underwater. At the same time, I was also intrigued by the power of music. If music made me fly in my flying project, it has to be a really powerful thing. If it’s that powerful… I decided to see if I could actually become music. That’s a kind of metaphysical dream. [It’s] an idea of transcendence. It’s about turning my physical body into something ephemeral. Turning myself into sound waves.
Scenes from the “The Underwater Project: Turning Myself Into Music”
TAUBER IN THE CAVE: But, making those sound waves music, and not just noise… That would be my ultimate dream, to become music. Maybe that’s what happens when you die. I don’t know.
August 29, 2005
The Art of Scuba
By Diane Krieger
A video installation running this week at the Helen Lindhurst Arts Gallery defies easy classification. Part musical composition, part subaquatic performance art, “Joel Tauber, The Underwater Project: Turning Myself Into Music” is a 51-minute multimedia meditation on the spiritual experience of becoming music.
“Obviously you can’t literally turn yourself into music,” Tauber says, but this installation comes close, translating the artist’s underwater movements into sound – and rather pleasing sound at that.
“It’s like weird underwater disco,” he says.
Tauber, who teaches digital video, interactivity and time-based motion graphics in the Intermedia Program of the USC School of Fine Arts, assembled the three-channel video installation by weaving together footage from 40 of his own dives off Southland beaches and the waters of the Caribbean nation, Belize. “You can tell which dives were in L.A. because the water is green,” he laughs.
Three projections play simultaneously, showing crossovers of the underwater world Tauber discovered, images of the artist immersed in clouds of air bubbles, and a motion graph that chronicles the depth and duration of each dive. These images are accompanied by a musical score “composed” by translating the dive’s technical parameters into different instrumental voices and pitches, resulting in a unique “song” for each dive.
“It’s amazing that it’s harmonious at all since the notes are derived from data, but it’s actually quite danceable,” says Tauber, who relishes the notion that others can move to music composed by his own motions.
Music is a preoccupation of the Boston-born artist. In an earlier project, “Searching for the Impossible: The Flying Project,” he had explored the metaphysics of flight. Strapped to a musical flying apparatus consisting of a cluster of helium balloons, Tauber floated 150-feet above the earth for 90 minutes while playing a bagpipe. The resulting video was a meditation on “the idea that music can make you fly.”
Los Angeles Times
August 25, 2005
MY FAVORITE WEEKEND: JOEL TAUBER
This caveman digs nature and the Sox
By Mark Sachs
Times Staff Writer
THE term “caveman art” might bring to mind crudely rendered hunting scenes etched onto stone, but Joel Tauber is a different kind of a caveman, and his art is just as unusual. The 33-year-old fine-arts graduate of Yale and Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design rents out living space that’s been carved from the side of a hill in Eagle Rock, and seldom have human and habitat been so aptly joined.
A teacher of video and Web art at USC, he has created film installations that revolve around interaction with nature, whether it’s his crawling naked into holes dug into desert soil, his strange underwater encounters or his attempts to fly with the aid of balloons while accompanying himself on bagpipes.
Tauber’s nautical adventure, “The Underwater Project: Turning Myself Into Music,” is at USC’s Helen Lindhurst Fine Arts Gallery through Sept. 2. But his weekends are his own.
Food and tree lover
I’m a big food lover, and on a Friday night, I might go over to Cafe Beaujolais in Eagle Rock. I’ve pretty much been a vegetarian since high school — I never eat red meat or chicken — but I eat fish when I’m not getting enough protein, and I’m in my fish-eating phase right now, so I’d probably have the salmon, with crème brûlée for dessert.
After that I’d probably go to a gallery opening or maybe to the Laemmle in Pasadena to see a documentary. I just saw Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man,” which I liked a lot.
On Saturday morning I’ll walk over to the Coffee Table in Eagle Rock and have the tofu scramble. Or right near there is Auntie Em’s Kitchen, where I might indulge in the orange French toast. They also have great salads and amazing brownies and cookies. After that I’ll go visit my tree, which will be my next video installation. I go swimming at the pool near the Rose Bowl a lot, and one day I noticed this tree in the middle of this giant parking lot. It was surrounded by cars and trash and seemed neglected like how some people are forgotten, and it tugged at my heart, so I started spending time with it, bringing water in these 20-gallon bags and climbing up into it and taking pictures. The installation won’t be ready for about 10 months.
After spending time with the tree I’ll go swimming and then to Fatty’s in Eagle Rock. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, and I like the fondue, and the pizza is fantastic. In the evening I’ll go to a party or do some tree research in my cave. I like just chilling on my couch and reading. I rented the place after seeing an ad in the Recycler. I had to hollow out a hundred gallons of dirt and rock, but it’s very cool in the summer.
A superstitious vein
I’m originally from Boston, and if the Red Sox are in town on a weekend, I always go see them play. When they won the World Series last year, I’d watch the games while I was on the phone with one of my friends from back there. And if things were going well, we’d have to remain still as we were talking because we were so superstitious. It was stupid, but it worked.
Also on Sundays, I like to go up to Angeles Crest and go hiking. I dig holes up there too and then crawl into them. There’s no one within miles, and it’s so peaceful and quiet. There’s a new restaurant called Newcomb’s Ranch, but it’s hard to tell what they do well, because after digging holes all day, everything tastes good.
Los Angeles Times
December 25, 2004
Into it for the shock of his life
Joel Tauber tries to jolt himself into seeing his place on Earth. In his art he flies, dives, dares.
By Hugh Hart
Special to The Times
Picture Woody Allen in a wetsuit swimming with sharks and you begin to grasp the contradictions embodied by Los Angeles’ resident highbrow argonaut, Joel Tauber. The 32-year-old Conceptual artist can’t brew a decent cup of coffee, and he uses the wrong remote control to bring down the volume on his TV because he’s been, for some time now, preoccupied with weightier concerns.
“I have these pantheistic leanings,” he explains, standing in the kitchen of his cave-walled mountaintop apartment in Eagle Rock. “If there is a divine, I think it probably lies in everything around us, so I’ve been trying to figure out ways to have these profound experiences for myself, and I’ve also struggled to figure out ways to chronicle it.”
The quest for transcendence began four years ago when Tauber began studying film and video at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. First came the “Holes Project.” Tauber dug himself into the ground in a variety of positions, at one point burying himself naked, neck deep in the dirt. He failed to find God but did contract a case of poison oak rash. Later he distilled his endeavors into a video installation, “Seven Attempts to Make a Ritual.”
Next, inspired by Don Quixote and the noble failures of medieval monk Eilmer, Tauber tried to fly using only his arms. He plummeted 150 times from a desert cliff onto a mattress. “I was trying to mentally prepare myself to think that I actually could do this, like a 2-year-old, without any pre-assumptions,” Tauber says. “I wouldn’t jump until I was convinced I could fly. Each time, when I hit the crash mat, it was a shock. I ended up pretty bruised.”
It’s all documented in his video, “Searching for the Impossible: The Flying Project” (2002-03), which can be seen at Orange County Museum of Art’s 2004 “California Biennial” through Jan. 9.
Tauber eventually attached himself to a platoon of helium balloons that allowed him to sail across the desert while blowing into a set of bagpipes.
For his latest piece, “The Underwater Project: Turning Myself Into Music” (2004), on view at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Tauber learned to scuba dive. Accompanied by a video-camera-toting companion, Tauber made 40 dives off the Southern California coastline and later translated the depth data into dance music. Drones and bleeps provide a soundtrack to a portrait of the artist as a frequently flummoxed diver, costarring an assortment of fish, crustaceans and seaweed.
“The problem with going underwater is having to breathe through these tubes, like a cyborg, carrying this tank of air,” Tauber says. “In the earlier pieces, the earth or the sky weren’t trying to eat you alive, whereas here, sometimes you’d get red tide … that makes you sick. So if this tube breaks or that shark gets angry, you’re screwed. It was a really hostile environment yet also really beautiful.”
‘Beauty and craziness’
Elizabeth Armstrong, who co-curated the Orange County exhibition, says Tauber’s work is emblematic of a change she has observed among younger California-based artists: “I’ve noted a return to sincerity. It is such a relief to leave irony behind. The flight project seems very amusing and droll at first, but as you watch the story unfold, you can’t help but get swept up in both the beauty and craziness of his venture. That spirit, to me, seems indicative of this particular generation of artist, which is very positive, even sort of utopian, and very much in the moment.”
“Look at the artists Joel shares the gallery with,” Armstrong adds. “Mindy Shapero has created these really zany dream images that seem very uninhibited. And video artist Marco Brambilla is very ambitious. In order to really enter this world of violent-action video games, he went to work for one of the manufacturers. I think that’s something we didn’t see in earlier generations so much, this willingness to not just be an artist working in this very prescribed world. For many of these artists, their art and their life [are] indistinguishable. Joel’s work doesn’t get mired down in technology…. He communicates the experience so that anybody can understand it.”
That some of his efforts are rife with danger is precisely the point, Tauber says.
“I have a fascination with this mix of dread and ecstasy,” Tauber says. Citing 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant’s “notion of the sublime,” Tauber adds: “Kant describes how the terror of the majesty of a mountain can lead to the sublime. Shelley, Byron and Coleridge, and the German Romantics, also write about this relationship between dread and the sublime. These ideas have influenced me, but I’ve tried to determine for myself what exactly would work for me on a metaphysical level. I guess I’m probably the victim of the American ideal that values originality and individuality because I like to do things my own way.”
Literary antecedents aside, if there’s a rational explanation for his worldview, it might be found in Tauber’s brainy, zany Boston upbringing. “My parents are pretty eccentric hippies, basically, who kept the TV locked up because they wanted us kids to play and read and be active,” he says.
Tauber’s father, Alfred, is a former cancer researcher who now teaches philosophy at Boston University. His mother, Alice, is a painter. He also has a brother named Dylan Bob. But Tauber says the 12 years he spent at a yeshiva had the deepest effect on his worldview. “My parents are Jewish but didn’t know anything about Judaism, so they decided to send me and my siblings to a very serious Jewish school.”
Tauber attended classes from 8 in the morning to 6 at night, prayed three times a day, did four hours of homework a night and spoke fluent Aramaic and Hebrew by age 13. He was also routinely ejected from class for being disruptive. “I had a lot of energy, a very active imagination, and I liked to run around,” Tauber says. “Art was forbidden at the Jewish school, and for me it was an extremely restrictive way to think about religion. They were training me to be a rabbi or a Talmud scholar or something.”
Instead, Tauber defied expectations and went to Yale University. “I found art there, and I became interested in thinking about art as a replacement for this Jewish upbringing,” he says. “When you go to a yeshiva, everything is about ethics, and for me that kind of idealism is related to naiveté. I guess, in a way, I’m looking for the same kind of moments that worked for me as a kid, during a more naive period — and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way at all — where I’m allowing myself to still have this sense of wonder about the world.”
Flirting with absurdity
After earning a bachelor’s degree in art history and sculpture from Yale, Tauber picked up a teaching degree at Boston’s Lesley University, then moved west in 2000. Hirsch Pearlman, a Los Angeles artist who now teaches at Yale and served as Tauber’s Art Center graduate advisor, sees some linkage between his protégé’s approach and that of Chris Burden, the performance artist known for orchestrating his own shooting in front of an audience. “There’s something about scaring yourself with your work that can’t help but bring about interesting new ways to establish relationships between the viewer and the work,” Pearlman says. “With somebody like Burden, there’s a lot more skepticism, whereas the funny thing about Joel’s attitude is, there’s a real utopic thread running through everything he does.”
Tauber is willing to flirt with absurdity if it leads to an unfiltered, uncompromised connection with the environment he’s exploring. “In all of these pieces, I wanted to see if I could form some kind of relationship to the earth or to the sky, or to the sea, or to the fish down there, and I wanted to do it in my own way by ignoring any presuppositions embedded in me by our culture.”
Every now and then, the willful naiveté pays off. As Tauber speaks, a video of his “Flying Project,” silently playing on the TV screen, reaches its finale to reveal the artist wafting his way through the cerulean sky 150 feet above the desert near Joshua Tree. “That was, by far, the most transcendent moment in my life,” Tauber says. “You can see everything for miles and miles. I could hear conversations that people were having on the ground a mile or two away. It was incredible because I had no control of where I was going. The wind was blowing me slowly here and there. It was complete exhilaration. I didn’t want to come down.”
Tauber, of course, did come down. He begins teaching at the USC School of Fine Arts next month. Beyond that, he says, “I come out of each of these things completely exhausted. I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”
Los Angeles Times
November 26, 2004
Staking a claim for an idiom of Los Angeles
Immersing himself into his artwork
By Christopher Knight, Times Staff Writer
In his 2003 video, “The Flying Project,” Joel Tauber made a witty and poignant meditation on the spiritual and aesthetic yearning for transcendence. With “The Underwater Project: Turning Myself Into Music,” he’s at it again. Soaring aloft tethered to helium balloons and powered by bagpipes has now been replaced by deep sea diving with scuba gear and electronic sounds. Still, the idea of leaving terra firma behind animates this wistful and whimsical effort.
At Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, a chart that looks something like a Dow Jones stock market report accompanies Tauber’s three-channel video installation. Forty jagged lines in assorted colors record the depth and duration of 40 scuba dives Tauber made in the Pacific Ocean. In a manner loosely related to the sound and image works of Steve Roden, these dive parameters became the structural basis for an eccentric Minimalist musical score depicted in one projection.
Another projection shows Tauber swimming underwater amid bursts of air bubbles. The third displays what he saw as he swam through the sea. The former is digitally altered so that his body seems to glow, while the latter mixes the ethereal (rhythmically waving sea grass, a magisterial sea turtle) with the mundane (trash from fast-food restaurants, a dead crab tossed by the current). The driving, repetitive music creates a sense of adventure, but the mounting anticipation isn’t followed by a climax.
In matters of the spirit it’s the magical quality of the journey that counts. Tauber has a definite gift for changing your frame of reference on the trip, turning the commonplace into the strange.
2004 California Biennial Catalog Essay
By Jane Simon
Flying-soaring above the clouds with a bird’s eye view of the earth below-has been a dream for humans for centuries. With the invention of hot-air ballooning, the airplane, the helicopter, and hang gliding, it is possible for humans to fly, but the longing for alternative methods of flight persists. Artist Joel Tauber mingles the physical desire of flight with metaphysical yearnings.
In his film, Searching for the Impossible: The Flying Project (2002-3), Tauber uses the lives of various individuals (or fools as Tauber would call them) to trace the history of flying. The story begins with Eilmer the Flying Monk, who believed that flight was dependent not on physical properties but on the marriage between science, strong conviction, and spiritual fulfillment. Despite his belief, Eilmer’s short flight, using wings modeled after those of Icarus, ended in a crash that left him paralyzed. In 1912, nine years after the Wright brothers built their first airplane, Austrian Franz Reichelt designed and sewed a bat costume for himself in the hopes that he could fly from the top of the Eiffel Tower. His flight lasted five seconds and ended in a fatal crash.
Tauber has taken up the legacy of both Eilmer and Reichelt and repeatedly attempted to fly without a mechanical device, relying only on mental preparation and his own physical exertion. Unlike his predecessors, Tauber used a crash mat or a pond to break his fall. None of his attempts was successful.
The foolish aspect of Tauber’s work relates to Chris Burden’s early performance pieces in which the young Burden completed often dangerous and outlandish acts, such as having a friend shoot him in the arm or throwing a paper airplane packed with two marijuana joints to Mexico. Both Burden’s and Tauber’s actions expose the limitations of normal activity, but Tauber’s project expands beyond the physical to expose a concept central to the human condition-the quixotic quest for the impossible. It is the obvious ridiculousness of his repeated attempts to fly that touches us.
In addition to the tales of Eilmer and Reichelt, Tauber was inspired by a drawing by Pierre Blanchard from the eighteenth century. The drawing details a mechanical flight machine mystically powered by music and guided by angels. From this, Tauber knew that his next attempt had to include music. Therefore, when he decided to explore cluster-balloon flying, he also chose the bagpipe to be his mystical balloon. Early one morning in the desert, Tauber and several friends inflated thirty-five latex weather balloons with helium. Clothed in a harness he had designed himself, Tauber attached himself to the cluster of helium balloons and floated while making music with bagpipes. His breath metaphorically raised the balloons, and he achieved corporeal and spiritual elevation.