This sculpture of a giant, fallen tree, when situated within a gallery space, evokes both the natural world’s destruction and art’s preservative powers. The piece began with a dead oak tree that Ray spotted while driving
along California’s central coast. Ray retrieved it in order to cast its form in silicone and fiberglass. He then employed woodworkers in Japan to carve a replica from a Japanese cypress, or hinoki
tree. After 400 years, it’ll decay—sharply at first, and then more gradually. The final work, then, is two layers removed from its original source material. Ray, whose casts were doubtless impacted by his own emotional response to the object, allowed a disinterested party on the other side of the world to render the final piece. (Plenty of sculptors use fabricators, but the coldness of, say, a
balloon dog or a
box is replaced here with something warmer and earthier.) For millennia, philosophers have wrestled with the idea of “tree-ness,” or just what constitutes the “form” of a tree. Ray’s art—sculpture about sculpture (and, in this case, about life and death, too)—grapples with the same issues. What makes this carved hinoki wood a sculpture, while the original fallen oak is not? Will Hinoki
still be a sculpture (or the same sculpture) when it decomposes?