"We first became aware of Temporary Trees when Angelique Spaninks of MU Eindhoven invited us to get involved with the project for Make a Forest, an initiative by Anne van der Zwaag and Joanna van der Zanden," explains Mkgk co-founder Guus Kusters.
"The brief was to develop an artificial tree, which we found interesting because a lot of our work is mainly about translating nature.
It was Angelique’s plan to team us up with another studio from Eindhoven: Raw Color. Both ourselves and Raw Color had done commissioned projects previously that involved natural themes, so Angelique thought it would be interesting for us to collaborate.
"The key element of the brief was simply that the tree should be artificial. Although initially this seemed to be a simple task, creating a fake tree actually turned out to be quite complicated. We talked with Christoph and Daniera from Raw Color a lot about the task and the difficulties of making an artificial tree. We decided from the off that we didn’t want to make it static as, though they may be very slow, trees move constantly. They grow, change form, change colour, density, and so on. And therein lay our challenge."
Work in progress
"In the beginning everything was still to be decided, so we got together with Guus and Maarten from MKGK and talked about ideas, inspiration and what the project could be and should not be," says Raw Color partner Daniera Ter Haar. "That’s sometimes really useful – to know what you don’t want. In this case, it certainly helped narrow our path to the final outcome.
"We began with research. Wanting to gain as much information as possible, the four of us went to see a tree doctor. This man knew so much about trees, it was inspiring to see what a passion it was for him. We visited his office where he told us about them in general; explaining that the average lifetime of a tree in an inhabited area is just 10 years, despite them having the potential to live longer than humans.
"Although shocked by this information, we were also very interested. That interest lead to a brainstorming session and some testing, and resulted in the concept of creating a photo series or movie as the end result.
"We wanted to show the temporariness of trees and to create silhouettes with everyday things. The decision was made that the material used must not be natural – we wanted to create the suggestion of a tree without using branches and leaves. This left the question of what the trunk would be composed of.
"At first, we thought about an installation, but this would have meant a lot of building and material usage, which somehow didn’t feel right. Later in the process, the answer of using the bodies of humans as the trunk, with the arms becoming the branches, came in.
"The final aspect was to recreate the trees’ movement, which we did by throwing simple everyday objects into the air and freezing the moments through images. We then began layering the images on top of each other to create motion and replicate how different trees look at different times, in different weather conditions."
An extensive study
"The production was a fun affair, mostly," comments Mkgk co-founder Maarten Kolk. "Doing the photoshoots was exciting because it was about being creative on the spot, with a lot of action. When we first presented the project, some people said that they didn’t think it suited us, but I disagree. We don’t often make videos or photography, but rather use it as a tool to study. That’s how I see the Temporary Trees project; as a very extensive study with a lot of care in the execution.
"This project really made us realise that, as living creatures, trees are extremely important to us, but are treated simply as objects by many. Therefore, showing the life of trees in relation to human beings became the main goal of the project, and the final concept ended up as the movements and actions of a human that transforms into a tree.
"I was very satisfied with the end result, especially with how the photos were exhibited as light box installations in a half-open space where the wind moved them slightly, just like real trees. The light effect at night was very beautiful, too. But I think what I like the most is that you can look at each individual photograph as a moment that celebrates trees."
- This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 219