Tree Test: Kunstgarasjen, Bergen


At first glance, trees and wood in various forms seem to be the focal point of Eamon O’Kane’s exhibition at Kunstgarasjen. Two huge trees - they must be at least eight meters high - are located in the center of the gallery room, and on the floor below are countless, systematically arranged wooden blocks and sticks. Large charcoal drawings of different types of wood hang on the end wall.


The exhibition, entitled tree test, turns out to be quite complex. The charcoal drawings refer to a personality test - a so-called "Baum Test" - in which the patient's drawing of a tree is used to analyze his psychological condition, not unlike the more well-known Rorschach test. The wooden blocks are taken from the educator Friedrich Fröbel's construction set for children. And the two trees? After the exhibition, they will be transported to the Norwegian Academy of the Arts, where they will be burned and turned into charcoal.


These works are accompanied by several video works, and through these it becomes clear that the trees, wooden blocks and charcoal drawings represent different stages in the life cycle of the carbon atom. Carbon is the most important component of all organic life on earth. And of course one can hardly mention the word "carbon" before the whole climate crisis comes furiously. This is also the more minor key tone that underlies O'Kane's material exploration.


But are there really clear connections between learning tools, psychology tests and the climate crisis? The answer to that depends on how willing one is to follow O’Kane’s associative jumps, which may be overly resilient. O’Kane has worked with the Fröbel building sets in several exhibitions before, and one can suspect him of bringing them to Kunstgarasjen out of old habit. Nevertheless, there are parallels here if one thinks of the carbon atom as the building blocks of the living world, and sees the lines that go from Fröbel's ideas about brick constructions as part of the child's natural development, to the rapidly changing man-made landscapes that appear in several of the videos in the exhibition . The diagnosis made through the exhibition's "Tree test" is then ambivalent: the human drive to build is as destructive as it is constructive.


Simen Joachim Helsvig