The BARKED project began with architect and digital artist Robert Ouellette’s investigation into ways to save energy using biomimetics. Robert once led the global Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Prize under Founder Dr. Ron Dembo. The Prize celebrated innovative, world-changing ways to insulate existing buildings to save energy. Since tree bark is a natural, insulating “skin”, Ouellette started documenting the world’s longest lived trees to better understand their evolutionary success. Over time the project changed from a focus on utility to a focus on the biological and spiritual benefits trees and forests offer us.
BARKED project trees are the oldest, largest, and/or most unique trees in distinct regions of the globe. Many are threatened by a changing climate. Their legacy is irreplaceable. So far, our search for trees has taken us to Canada, the US, Australia, Mexico, Thailand, France, England, Scandinavia, Lebanon, Singapore, and Morocco. The next expedition will be to southern Africa. After that we expect to travel to the Amazon rain forest.
Using high-resolution digital cameras, we photograph a cylindrical section of a majestic tree’s trunk. Where possible the entire girth of the tree is documented. The resulting images are woven together using advanced software and then flattened into a two-dimensional image. Depending on the size of the tree, the complete, unrolled images can be ten or more metres long. We segment the longer images into modules of two metres wide by one high. Smaller, frame-sized editions are also available. The pictures are stunning to look at but they also capture a tree’s environment, life, and history. Art meets science.
We are passionate about the symbiotic relationship between trees and people. That relationship ranges between the pragmatic and the poetic.
Ouellette’s large BARKED works are visceral experiences. They bypass a direct reference to the things of nature in a search for essence. As a result, the images are more like Mark Rothko’s colour field paintings than they are the prints of Ansel Adams. Nature here is a continuous, emergent force, not an object.
The works are a glimpse into near geologic time. And like a changing earth, the barked skins of the largest, oldest trees on the planet absorb and reconfigure markings from their encounters with us. Think of the process as a reverse pentimento. New readings do not emerge over time from below the image surface, they are imprinted from above by the friction of people leaving their sign on the natural world.
Where possible the entire circumference of a tree is photographed.
The resulting images are digitally fused into a flat, large-format print.
Almost everything in life is better when done with other people. We invite you to get involved with the project by sponsoring the work, purchasing a limited edition print, or collaborating on a specific tree project. Contact us to discuss how to be part of the BARKED initiative.