Seeing Trees: A journey to the inside of aspens

By Dawne Belloise

Three white aspen trunks, randomly dotted with eyes, branch upward into the evening, topped with triangular sails that give the impression of magical boats sailing into the reddening sky. Viewed through the trees, a gauzy, angel-like apparition is lithely dancing against the backdrop of the meadow below Crested Butte Mountain, as Bridges of the Butte pedalers thread their bikes through the two whimsical art forms that flock the sides of the path. The trees and the bikes flash wildly colored lights, an unintended harmony, like psychedelic fireflies.

The art is part of the ongoing and evolving exhibit Seeing Trees, created by local artist Heather Bischoff, who tells about her inspiration for the concept.

“The sails above were like bringing the clouds down to earth. I’ve always admired clouds—it’s a very imaginative landscape and I draw a lot of inspiration from that. I often play with surreal environments, creating a space that references a space that is familiar to people so they feel comfortable to explore, but then inviting them to look with curious eyes so they can think about things in a different perspective.

“With the trees, we have the familiar setting of a forest but it’s juxtaposed with an abstract design. It has this dystopian or apocalyptic vibe,” Bischoff says of her surreal forest. “We’re thinking about these trees as sort of an alien environment, something that would be organic versus industrial and the connection between all of that media. It’s all just matter, right?”

Heather recognizes that the aspen motif is very popular among Colorado artists. “So I wanted to approach it in a unique way. While I was hiking the aspen groves in the Dark Canyon I was thinking, what do the trees see? You feel like you’re remote and no one is watching you but then I started thinking about the animals and the plants observing me in their environment.”

Like a curious magpie with a fascination for interesting objects, Heather collects things. She says, “I’m often being playful with manmade and organic materials and how they’re connected.” Her mixed media collage, on exhibit at the T-Bar Café on Elk Avenue at Third Street, combines remnants of actual plants and materials, layering and recycling them with what Heather calls “post-consumer materials” such as sales receipts, packaging, paper scraps, grip tape and anything else she may find that speaks to her art. “I don’t throw anything away. I recycle it into art. It’s the blessing and curse of being an artist. All materials have potential to be transformed into something else.”

Another of Heather’s art pieces is on the wall inside the lobby of the public restrooms in the firehouse building, downtown on Third Street off Elk Avenue. It’s a large 2D collage spanning 18 feet across. “I made the aspen out of paste up collage using Crested Butte News papers,” she says, adding that she created the work last fall.

“I captured about five weeks of the News at that time to make the trunks and painted over it to make the mural. That got me thinking about what kind of stories are held in the environment. After I finished the mural, I wanted to take it a step further and thought, wouldn’t it be cool to make a 3D exhibit? I wanted people to think about what stories trees hold—what do aspen trees see? I wanted to look into the aspen eyes and see what their stories were,” she says of her inspiration for See Trees.

At her initial fundraising party at the Red Room (the basement of Secret Stash), Heather created a façade to allow people to look into the trees to relay the experience of the full piece. “The concept is to allow people to look into the eyes of the aspen, into the internal realms of the trees and ask the question, what do the trees see?”

Heather’s next exhibit will be at the Crested Butte Arts Festival the weekend of August 2-4, where the installation will include the view into the aspen’s inner being.

With more than 100 subscribers, Heather created a concept of a traveling art form she calls Mail Art, which involves making art and sending it through the mail. “I’d have subscribers who’d be following me and my journey,” she says of her patrons, “and I’d send things from various zip codes, made from material I’d find in that area, that was specific to the area. I was really excited about the idea of transmitting one place to another place and allowing the art work itself to make that journey. From my end, it sends all of the physical experience of traveling into the hands of the recipient.”

She laughs that it was her stubbornness about digital social media that was part of the impetus to use mail as art, “because I felt like [social media] was less sincere. I feel that when you make an actual postcard, or write an actual letter, that there’s a more sincere connection. There’s something visceral about it and that’s what we’re doing with the trees.” She works with a team of artists who help her with the creations. “We’re inviting the audience to experience this art because they’re actually looking into the trees. It’s really compelling to express an idea or explore questions about the world.”

Each time Heather shows her See Trees exhibit, she utilizes the resources available. She plans to take Sees Trees to Burning Man and tour the project across the nation and possibly worldwide as a temporary outdoor installation. She’s applied to several events, including the new one in Taos called The Vortex.

“I keep applying to festivals and events, galleries and contemporary art exhibits, any opportunity that would allow for installation art. Bridges of the Butte is one of the few opportunities to exhibit outdoor installations in this town. This project is unique, and eventually I hope to make the trees waterproof so they can be a permanent installation outside. There’s potential to make this project grow. I intend to make multiple trees, adding more and more trees, like an aspen forest—it can grow.”

Her trees are all connected with tube steel through the base, trunk and up through the branches, as real aspen groves are all connected and basically one living entity. Heather has designed her creation to be a mobile exhibit at this point: “It’s a traveling forest.”

For more information, or to donate or become a sponsor for See Trees, visit Instagram: @see.trees #seetreesinstallation. Or on Facebook, search See Trees.

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