SHRINE TO THE ASH TREE installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Museum

A Shrine to the Ash Tree highlights American Ash Tree in a video art installation at Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center

Andrea Torrice’s latest project uses art as a venue to examine the plight of the American Ash Tree. A Shrine to the Ash Tree is an artistic investigation of the Ash tree species’ extinction due to the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect from Asia. Using the conceptual and structural elements of a shrine of remembrance, the installation raises questions about the conflict between personal desire and the loss of our landscape resulting from current global trade practices.

There are an estimated 9 billion Ash trees in the United States, comprising 10-40 percent of our native forests in North America, primarily on the East coast and Midwest. Ash trees play an important role in wetland ecosystems, and a single tree can host over 500 other species, including birds, insects and bacteria. A sturdy, hard wood species that fills the fall landscape with beautiful colors, the Ash tree has also been used to make that most cherished of American objects, the baseball bat. Grown in nurseries and planted along city streets, millions of Ash trees thrived in American communities after Dutch Elm disease destroyed the elms a century ago.

The destruction wrought by the Emerald Ash Borer can be traced to the proliferation of a tiny, green beetle from Asia, discovered in Michigan about a decade ago. The eggs were probably embedded in wooden pallets from China. Cargo ships loaded with consumer goods and plants arrived in the US with thousands of these pallets, bringing along Emerald Ash Borer eggs that later hatched in the discarded wood. The borer found a vulnerable host with no defenses to feast upon in the American Ash tree. Currently, the Emerald Ash Borer has spread to 33 states, is heading West, and will wipe out the entire species of Ash trees in North America in the next 10-20 years.

I hope in this installation, not only to raise awareness of this environmental crisis, but also commemorate the beauty of the Ash tree in a shrine setting. A Shrine to the Ash Tree is constructed from wooden pallets similar to those used on cargo ships from Asia and also incorporates infested Ash trees from Cincinnati parks. The images in the video include living Ash trees that I filmed over the past few years around the Cincinnati area along with shots of Ash tree seeds that are being collected and stored in seedbanks in the hope that the Ash tree species can be brought back someday.

I hope this project helps to raise public awareness about the causes of the Ash trees’ demise and provoke communities and individuals to press upon our legislators to pass more stringent regulations that will mitigate invasive insects and protect our native forests for the future.

This installation is portable and available for other venues. Please contact Andrea at andrea@torricemedia.com for more information.


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