Friday, August 29, 2008

Fruits of the forest (a sculpture installation)

Last night, after sundown, I walked along a forest trail at 1000 feet altitude, through an abandoned grove that was once used by the ag school for the test-planting of experimental varieties of macadamia nut. The nut trees are still there but the forest has overwhelmed them, and philodendron vines hang down to brush your face in the dark. A giant tree fern grew beside the trail and lifted 12-foot fronds over our heads. The air was still, humid, neither hot nor cool but somehow neutral, as if there were no barrier of skin between ourselves and the night.

Flickering oil torches lined the path and somewhere off in the brush a generator whirred unobtrusively, providing power for the pools of light cast here and there by lamps. In the velvety darkness, they were like little clearings, ringed round by dimness as impenetrable as brush.

In the first of these, huge globes of many-colored glass hung from the trees in clusters, set into rings of black metal at different angles, like the planets in an orrery.

In the second, the openings of a strangler fig trunk were filled with translucent natural-rubber castings of human navels, lit from behind and shining softly like eyes.

The stream gully that cuts across the trail had been crossed by a rotting wooden bridge, now replaced by a replica with support beams in termite-proof recycled plastic and cross-ties of high tensile strength cast glass, which reproduce perfectly the weathered grain of the wooden originals. Lit from below, the bridge's visibility made the gully invisible, and it was as if a section of the trail itself had somehow begun to glow where it emerged from the leaf mold.

Finally we came to a tall tree with torchlight puddling among its buttress roots. Just beyond it, from high overhead, a string of frosted glass rudraksha fruit (Elaeocarpus grandis) stretched to the ground and lay scattered among the fallen leaves. The exterior surface of each fruit was frosted and smooth, but the faceted spikiness of the nut was left as an empty space inside, catching and scattering the light of the fiber-optic cable on which it was strung. The individual fruits glowed with a cool, bluish, moonlike shine.

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