Project Empathy

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					The second seminar in the DART series
Funded by IDEAS Research Institute
Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University

Ecology and Environmental Art in Public Place
Reiko Goto

Slide 2
My research question is: “Is it possible to create change if we understand life is
interdependent and interrelated with nature in our environments?” How can I answer
this question through my artwork?

Slide 3
I chose trees as a focal point of the relationship between human and the natural
environment. There was a simple graph that showed a concentration of atmospheric
carbon dioxide. It was observed at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii between 1958
and 1989. It obviously shows the rise in CO2 level. The interesting element was the
saw blade like patterns. The zigzag line indicates that photosynthesis of plants that
was more active during the summer than winter.

In 2000 my partner Tim and I went to see the Duke Forest at Duke University in
North Carolina. A team of scientists were wiring the forest to test the reaction of the
trees to carbon dioxide. A scientist invited us to climb up a forty-foot high structure
that was built around and among pine trees. The scientist showed us portable
equipment they were using to measure the amount of photosynthesis from the tree
leaves. The machine looked like two pieces of Plexiglas, between which he placed a
bunch of pine needle leaves. When the sun peaked out from behind a cloud, the
photosynthesis rate went up. The scientist then asked me to put my hand on the
leaves to block the leaves from the sun light. The meter went down immediately. We
were surprised to see how sensitive trees were to the environmental change and to our
actions. Since our experience at the Duke Forest, I have been thinking about how we
can create a situation where people could experience these responses of trees that are
usually invisible.

Slide 4

Trees live within ecological systems and interact in ways that are often invisible to
our eyes. In order to understand the system we need new ideas, experience and
learning. The word “ecology” in German is Ökologie that consists of two Greek
words öko- eco- and -logie –logy. Öko is also oîk (οs) means in Greek “house” or
“living relations” and logie means "study of". In Japanese it is called 生態学 (sei-tai-
gaku). Japanese words: 生(sei) means “living” and 態(tai) means “state”, 学 (gaku)
means “study of”. The Chinese hieroglyph 態 consists of 能 - no means brain 心 -
kokoro means heart. Ecology seems to take brain - knowledge and heart – feelings
and memories to understand.

Slide 5
I chose to study about empathy. The word “empathy” comes from the Greek word
empatheia (em + pathos), and means passion. Pathos means feeling and emotion.

Slide 6
The theory of empathy began to develop in philosophy in the late 19th century.
Theodor Lipps (1851-1914), a German philosopher, adapted and conceptualized the
notion of “feeling into” to empathy as phenomenon of “inner imitation”.

Slide 7
Lipps‟ idea was carried on and expanded by the field of psychology and philosophy in
the 20th century: Edmund Husserl, Max Scheler and Edith Stein.

Slide 8
I chose Stein‟s book On the Problem of Empathy (1916) to understand the conceptual
framework of empathy.

Empathy is different from sympathy.

   - Empathy is an act of perceiving in which we reach out to the other to grasp the
   others state or condition.

   - We comprehend feeling in others by observing

   - Empathy is not based on one‟s self interest.

Slide 9
We comprehend feeling in others by observing the other person's facial expression or
bodily gesture because we too express feeling through the body. Expression can take
these different forms: facial expression, body language, forms of speech, politics,
education and art. These expressions can be called actions. Action is always the
creation of what is not. (Stein, p.56). We feel sstrong emotional surges when listening
to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‟s famous speech, “I have a dream1”. His speech evokes
feelings, emotion and passion that speak to different individuals, diverse races and
beliefs. It resonates with empathy. Many years have been passed since his death, yet
his voice still resonates in me, I believe it may transmit to succeeding generations.

Slide 10
I looked at two historical artworks as case studies. The first is 7000 Oaks by Joseph
Beuys (1982-1986). 7000 Oaks was presented at Documenta 7, an international art
exhibition, in 1982. Documenta takes place every five years across the city with a
focal point at Museum Fridericianum in Friedrichsplatz, the heart of Kassel in
Germany. Documenta was initiated in 1955 by Arnold Bode, an artist and art educator.
At the time the city was still under re-construction from the war. Beuys planted the
trees as tree lanes in the city. The seven thousand trees consisted of mainly oaks, but
other species: ash, chestnut, crab apple, elm, gingko, hawthorn, linden, locust, maple,
sycamore and walnut2. Beuys trees are easily recognized, because each tree is marked
with a basalt column. Basalt is a type of volcanic rock. The columns were mined from
30 km away from the city. The symbol of oak is a national tree of Germany.

Stein explains the difference between symbols and signs. Symbolic relationship is
present and based on the unity of body and mind. For example between my sadness
and the facial expression of that sadness lie a strong body and mind relationship. This
countenance and sadness are a natural unity. The appearance of “looking sad” is a
symbolic given. It is different from sign and indication. Another example smoke can
be a sign or indication of fire. We project our thoughts and experience about the

 The speech was delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.
 Willisch, S and Heimberg, B (ed.) (2007) Joseph Beuys The End of the 20th Century. München:
Dorner Institute, p.63.

smoke. But it does not have a psycho-physical relationship like countenance and

There are a couple of important historical documents that describe a deep relationship
between Germanic tribes and forest: Commentarii De Bello Gallico, The Gallic War,
a historical narrative, by Julius Caesar (BC 50s – BC 40s), and Germania, an
ethnography by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 - AD 117). In the both
documents German nomadic tribes were described as barbarians who inhabited the
area around the Hercynian forest; an area that extending from the Rhine to Romania.
The tribes lived by hunting and gathering in woods and bogs.

Slide 11
A German Renaissance artist Albrecht Altdorfer painted St. George and the Dragon
(1510). It is interesting to note that the detailed forest seems to consist of diverse
mature tree species with a rich under story growth. Three hundred years later Casper
David Friedrich, artist in the Romanticism period, painted The Solger in the Forest3
(1813). In his painting the forest consists of dark conifers. The difference between
Altdorfer and Fridrich is the ecological quality and diversity of the forests. I can
imagine the sounds of many song birds in Altdorfer and dead silence in Friedrich.

During the First and Second Wars, National Socialist Scholarship in the Third Reich
focused upon philosophy, literature, art and music to fill the gap between the idealized
racial identity and the actual condition of the natural environment. Ironically the
ancient forests were disappearing rapidly despite the fact that trees and forests were
the key elements of German culture.

In Beuys‟s case actual oak trees and tree lanes give some physical tension, but the
symbolic meaning of the oak is embedded in German history and culture. Beuys‟ oak
does not at first consideration appear complex. The material itself has a potent
symbology; the issues of history, culture and myth are invisible to the eyes but exist

  The kerstings were shown in an exhibition of partriotic painting at Dresden in 1814 alongside a
painting that became the most enduring of all the icons of the Freiheitskrieg: Casper David Friedrich‟s
“ Chasseur” in the Forest (color illus. 13). Contemporary critics had no difficulty in recognizing the
heavy load of partriotic symbols carried by the painting: the raven, perched on the felled fir stumps
(signifying martyred soldiers), singing its song of death to the isolated French chasseur. (Schama,

like stars in the day light. The myth is constructed by discussion about the work,
through words, stories and narratives.

Stein explains how words have a symbolic relationship and value. When words are
spoken, the tone of the voice, facial expression and body gesture support the symbolic
relationship to various degrees.

Each word has a meaning(s). I say „tree‟, but the word tree has no actual relationship
to the tree outside of my house. I can describe and modify the tree and the
environment. But still it has no actual relationship to the trees that belong in other
places. The word “tree” can be a metaphor for the actual tree. We create a metaphor to
describe the tree that we experienced. Myth is a type of metaphor. It is not an
individual creation but collective narratives and stories. Myth is a shared experience
and a feeling of oneness in the culture. Each culture has myth which can become a
part of a person‟s persona. It can be good or evil. Myth evolves in different time and
contexts but is never totally lost.

Slide 12
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison use metaphors to create their artwork.
They are based on California, and work as a husband and wife team. They have been
pioneers of the ecological art movement in Europe, U.S. and Asia for over forty years.
They are artists and researchers who deal with complex environmental and ecological
issues that are deeply related to the cultural issues, environmental ethics, economy,
politics and other aspects of today‟s social structure. Some of their major artworks
are: the Lagoon Cycle research conducted between 1974 and 1984, Green Heart of
Holland (1994), Peninsula Europe (2000-08), and Greenhouse Britain (2007-09).
They have been commissioned by national governments, regional planning and
environmental agencies to analyse and revise eco-systems and green infrastructure.
Their art form is based on metaphors in relationships to systems dynamics within
specific eco-cultural landscapes.

The Serpentine Lattice is a multi media installation at the Douglas F. Cooley
Memorial Art Gallery in Reed College in Portland Oregon in 1993. The artists

assembled 80 different parts of United States Geographical Survey topographical
maps to create the western coastal mountain range parallel to the shoreline. Entire
areas were carefully hand coloured in green. The map of Southern Alaska side sat on
the bottom left. The Seattle and Portland areas reached to the ceiling wall, and the
Northern California area ended on the middle right. Each map was a 27 inch by 22
inch rectangular shape, but all together became a 36 foot that stretched across the

The actual size of their project is about 2000 miles long and 20-30 miles deep. In the
Serpentine Lattice the green coloured area between California to Alaska, the shape of
the serpentine, delineates the coastal watersheds and coastal rain forest as a whole.
The form is determined by two lines on the map. One is the actual shore line between
northern California to southern Alaska. The second line is the crest of the coastal
mountains and “the north / south ridge line”. From this boundary to the Pacific coastal
line the area is carefully hand coloured in green on the map.

The lattice makes a scale shift from macro to micro. Each shape of the lattice is the
boundary of a sub-watershed. Each lattice holds its own eco-system. There are more
than 3,800 streams and rivers that flow through the land4 which means there are more
than 3.800 sub-watersheds in the area.

Slide 13

The slide projections filled the gallery wall. Over 300 slide images were organized as
a seven-minute sequence. It moved from pristine old growth forests to select
harvesting then clear cut harvesting and the destruction of habitat, slopped soils and
whole watersheds. The aerial images showed patches of the fragmentation of the
forest. The images were taken in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia
and Alaska. All the images were of slope /forest landscape; no pictures of wildlife,
people, cities, towns and other human infrastructure were included.

Portland, Oregon, The Douglas M. Cooley Memorial Gallery, Reed College, p.23.

The heart of the project was story telling. The story was presented in the exhibition
handout and catalogue, and also read by the artists during the lecture/performance at
Reed College.


The Serpentine Lattice story begins with a statement: “the forest is dying” evoking
tragic feeling about these extraordinary large trees. It links to individual aesthetic
sensitivity, spiritual awareness and moral and ethical practice. The story developed as
they ruminated upon the information, conversations and different points of view about
the forest. In the climax, the shape of the Serpentine Lattice on the maps was
explained, and new ideas based on emergent metaphors and a productive alternative
economy were introduced.

Slide 14
My Practice
I lived in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania between 1993 and 2005. I was a research fellow at
the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University. I helped direct two
collaborative projects: Nine Mile Run5 (1996-2000) and 3 Rivers 2nd Nature6 (2000-
2005). Nine Mile Run was a single watershed project, 3 Rivers 2nd Nature was three

  Nine Mile Run (1996-2000) Research project with Tim Collins, Bob Bingham, John Stephen, at
STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Nine
Mile Run (NMR) is set in the context of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the former steel capital of the United
States. The research supported by the Heinz Endowment for three years. The project‟s goal was to
create a program of community engagement. In the research, design and development of a new
Greenway in an abandoned stream valley filled with 20 stories of stories of steel-mill slag. The artists
developed the concept, sought funding and hired an interdisciplinary team of academics to work
closely with communities to understand what could be done and create a plan to do it. The final
proposal has resulted in a $6 million stream restoration program.
  3 Rivers 2nd Nature (2000-2005), a 5 year analysis of green infrastructure systems in Allegheny
County Pennsylvania, at STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, U.S.A. The funding came from Heinz again. Tim directed the project for five years. His
interest was synthesizing the research results as strategic knowledge to communities. The heart of the
project consisted of 23 different reports, which were published and distributed. Areas of focus were
aquatic, terrestrial, history and education. The reports included special programs: The Hillside Project6
that was a planning documentation, The River Dialogue6 was a community outreach program and The
Countywide Design6 was analysis of the ecological system of the 72 watersheds by using Geographic
Information System (GIS) mapping. The project intended set out to deliver these reports to the local
environmental organizations to utilize the research, ideas, and community input in a sustainable way.

rivers and 56 sub-watersheds. Both projects focused on recovering ecosystems in post
industrial public places. My interest was terrestrial studies and aesthetic experience of
botany and geology. I worked with botanists, entomologists, geologists, historian and
Geographical Information System specialists.

Slide 15
The key issue was how to create a new understanding of ecological systems in the
post industrial public realm. The research was experiential, analytical and dialogical
with the experts and communities.

Slide 16
My study at the Robert Gordon University started in the fall 2006. Robert Gordon, the
founder of the university was a cartographer. He owned one of the oldest maps in
Scotland made by Timothy Pont who created numerous maps by walking and talking
to the local people. The map delineated the Dee River. The uniqueness of the map
from the present was that the structure of the map consisted of the rivers and their
tributaries. I imagined these places used to be covered by riparian plants.

Slide 17
T.C. Smout, an environmental historian said, “The Relationship between people and
trees in Scotland has been deep and important one at many levels, but not always the
same7.” (Smout, p.2)

Slide 18
In Scotland the wood coverage: only 4% land is covered with semi-natural wood
(MacKenzie 1999). The actual forest cover is 16%.

It surprise me a beautiful city Aberdeen has the least amount of woodland per capita
of all the major cities of Scotland.
Woodlands can contribute, to at least seven policy priorities and strategies of the
Scottish Parliament, and eleven of Aberdeen City Council's.

    Smout, T.C. (ed.) (2003) People and woods in Scotland. Edinburgh: University Press.

Some of the most important national priorities include:
- The development of a Green Space Network
- Social Inclusion & Environmental Justice
- Access to nature in Urban Areas
- Biodiversity
- Climate Change and carbon fixing
- Environmental Education

Slide 19
I decided to initiate a new project with my collaborative partner Tim Collins. My
initial idea was to use plant physiological equipment to observe various tree species
reacting to changing atmospheric conditions. We wanted to build the system and test
it in Northern California. The project was developed by an interdisciplinary team.

Carola Boehm: Computer Scientist/Musicologist, Manchester Metropolitan
University. She developed the sonic program that translate the plant physiological
data to sound.
Prof Tim Collins: Artist
Matthew Dalgliesh: Artist, PhD Candidate, University of Wolverhampton
Tim and Matt worked on the real time system.
Noel Hefele: Artist, Dartington College. He developed the web site.
Prof Trevor Hocking: Plant Physiologist, University of Wolverhampton. He consulted
on the project. He supported the idea creating new understanding and new
relationship with trees. His role was to assure accuracy and proper interpretation of
the data.

We shared an interest in developing an artwork that would provide real-time
experience as plants‟ respond to changes in atmospheric chemistry;
particularly in relationship to CO2. My role in this work is in the application and use
of these devices to experience empathetic moments with trees. The work intends to be
shared in various public/semi-public places.

Slide 20

Tim and I invited to be the artists in residence at the Headland Center for Arts in
Marin County California for two months in the summer 2008. We tested many trees
with the equipment. We chose native species: oak, aspen, maple, burning bush, alder,
allspice, willow, and dogwood.

Slide 21, 22
The data from the test included atmospheric CO2, atmospheric humidity, atmospheric

temperature, leaf CO2, leaf humidity, air flow from the pump, leaf temperature, an

light intensity. Mathematical equations based on these parameters give us

photosynthesis8 and transpiration.

Slide 23
Two video clips were created that demonstrate how trees respond to human

interactions using auto exhaust and breathing as examples. The first video uses a

potted Oak tree that is replaced outside of the window next to the road. Red and blue

spikes show up on the computer screen every time a car goes by. The red line

represents CO2 from the atmosphere, and the blue line represents CO2 from the leaf.

These data are also translated to the sound of a flute that illustrates musically how

much the amount of CO2 goes up and down.

  The process of photosynthesis begins with a leaf of the tree that is surrounded by atmospheric
turbulence. Under side of the leaf there are thousands of small pores called stomata. When the stomata
open and suck the air including carbon dioxide. The stomata also control the transpiration. This sucking
mechanism also draws water from the soil through the root and up the stem. The water passes to the
green leaves. Transpiration maintains the leaf temperature and prevents dehydration from the plants.
Inside of the leaf green substance in plants called chlorophyll that processes the sun light, carbon
dioxide, water to create a type of sugar that builds the plant body, fruits and seeds. Leaves reduce the
CO2 level and produce oxygen during day time and reverse the activity during night time. Some plants
reduce the CO2 level more than others. Also some plants like cactus and orchids reduce CO2 level
during night time as well as day time.

The other video clip shows the tree response when I breathe into the tube. First, both

the red line (CO2 in the atmosphere) and blue line (CO2 processed by a tree leaf) go

high immediately. The leaf seems unable to process so much CO2 at once. A few

seconds later both lines go very low. This shows the leaf is taking the CO2. Then,

slowly the lines start going back to the normal positions.

Slide 24

Developing the tools

We created a portable unit called Plein Air intended to allow us to travel to various

places and interact with trees and people in the specific environments. This idea

comes from an artist tool called Plein air easel that is designed to carry the painting

supplies and provide a platform for outdoor painting. Our Plein Air is an interactive

device intended to initiate a relationship between plants and the audience. The easel

structure holds a computer, plant physiology sensing equipment and speakers. It is

also connected with a microphone stand that holds a leaf chamber that connects a tree

leaf to a number of plant physiology monitoring devices. The audience will

experience sound that re-presents the trees‟ response to localized changes to

atmospheric chemistry; caused by human respiration, transportation, home heating

and industrial pollutants.

Slide 25

After I came back from California, Trevor looked at all the data and graphs carefully

and chose some good ones. I translated the data to sound of the flute.

Coast live oak Quercus agrifolia, 26 August 2008, 12:00-15:30

This is a very impressive response. This is one of the biggest photosynthetic
responses we've seen here. A massive depletion. The depletion is up to around

20 parts per million, so a really big depletion giving you a really nice photosynthetic
curve here that then settles down to a steady state. That is a really good response.
(Trevor Hocking)

Slide 26
Quaking aspen Populus tremuloides, 21 August 2008, 14:00-16:10
Nice depletion here, giving you nice photosynthetic rate here. Relative humidity is
sensible, the leaf chamber is much higher than the reference. So you have a nice
transpiration curve there.

Bigleaf maple Acer macrophyllum, 23 August 2008, 14:00-16:20

Slide 27

I wanted to re-create a small forest with the sound.

Slide 28
Interface & Empathetic Relationship with Trees
      Empathy can be cultivated for new understanding about others and their
      Empathy can take a form of symbolic or metaphoric expression.
      My goal is to stretch my understanding of trees, science, technology combined
       with aesthetics and ethics in the artwork and writing.
      The project in its final form is a “Plein Air” artists easel. It will result in a
       series of experiments in public places and gallery installation.
      I am seeking dialogue among people who are interested in empathic
       relationships with trees; with the intent to develop ideas and actions.

Key Questions:

The city of Aberdeen is 2819 square miles. In 1841 the population was 63,262, and in
1901 it became 153,503. The population is currently 213,810. What is the quality of
relationship between human inhabitants and trees?

Last November Peter Robertson invited Dr. Walker to talk about climate change and
our responsibility of energy use. At the end of her presentation she addressed the
disciplines that would take an important role to change our behaviour: engineering,
technology, architecture, politics, business, social science and leadership. Behavioural
change demands practical evaluative and mitigate response from the sciences.
However it also demands a means to understand and value our changing environment
from the arts and humanities. What are the current practices and future research
questions that we bring to the table?


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