Metrosideros excelsa “Pohutukawa” – Gather (2012)

The Pohutukawa is a tree that I first came in contact with along the streets of San Francisco near the Exploratorium while I was an artist in residence in 2008. Its seeds are dispersed by wind like the dandelion and it has great cultural and ecological significance to the people of New Zealand. Animated loops created from the tree have been made available under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 3.0) in anticipation of my trip to New Zealand for SCANZ 2013: 3rd Nature where I hope to hear about the tree’s importance firsthand, sit under its branches watching pollinators, and maybe even spot a giant weta using one for shelter if I’m lucky enough. These animations serve as the beginning of a dialogue that will inform my role as a collaborator in Kate Genevieve’s “Gather.”

The image below acts as a contact sheet showing stills from the various animated clips available at the Internet Archive, medium quality/small file size, 720p, h264 .mov files here: http://archive.org/details/Pohutukawa720 and high quality/large file size, 1080p, animation compressed .mov files here: http://archive.org/details/Pohutukawa

Map (tracking the cultural diffusion of the Pohutukawa animations):


View Pohutukawa in a larger map

Sample edit:

Stills with descriptions:


The [freshLeaf] loops are created from a handful of new growth leaves with vibrant color and soft texture that exhibits a flickering flame-like movement when animated. According to Philip Simpson’s Pohutukawa and Rata: New Zealand’s Iron-hearted Trees:

In Pohutukawa the new leaves are covered in a whitish fur; this gradually wears off the upper surface of the leaf, but thickens into a persistent felt on the underside that serves to protect the breathing pores (stomata) of the leaf from salt and wind, and hence prevent any unnecessary loss of water.

[fruitSlice] is a cross-section of the fruit that develops from a fertilized flower.

In [fruitPillar] the stamen recedes, a fruit emerges, and this cycle shifts back and forth. When the flower is pollinated the stamen fills the fruiting body with life.

[fruitStar] is an above view of the fruit developing, surrounded by a golden ring.

[portal] provides a view through the base of a spent blossom with the fruiting body removed. One of the first anecdotes I came across concerning the Pohutukawa was about the tree on Cape Reinga where it is believed that souls depart for the afterlife.

[portalStar] is the flipside of the previous loop. Not quite as dark without the white, hairy texture of the previous loop.

[triBottom] is the first loop created from the flowers which are clustered into groups of three. The fact that the red flowers seem to bubble up and explode is particularly relevant as Pohutukawa is capable of colonizing the fresh lava rock of newly formed volcanic islands.

[triHeart] is made from cross-sections of Pohutukawa blossoms that have yet to unfurl. The flower’s tendrils appear almost like swirling platelets or other cell structures which could be found in the blood stream. one account from Maori folklore describes the crimson flowers of the Pohutukawa tree as the blood of the legendary hero Tawhaki.

The triplet clusters of flowers grow opposed to each other in pairs which inspired me to lean them against each other to create [triSource]. The animation progresses from appearing like a newly divided cell, to abstract dancing forms, and finally another volcanic like explosion similar to [triBottom]

[triTorso] was envisioned as a return to the spirit-like associations of [portal]. After creating this loop I heard accounts of the Pohutukawa tree such as “Bodies of the departed were laid to rest among its ancient boughs and roots.” excerpted from Philip Simpson’s “Pohutukawa and Biodiversity” report.

Cuttings just below the flowers and buds possessing the opposing leaves appeared to me like a deer with antlers, [twoLeavesDeer] showing the tops of the ears and [twoLeavesDeerListen] showing the underside. These loops could address the human introduction of species which sometimes has destructive consequences (like the introduction of deer and possums) the fact that the tree I created the animation from was found in San Francisco also adds another layer to this. The beginning of [twoLeavesDeerListen] exhibits a flight like motion as well.

[twoLeavesOver] and [twoLeavesUnder] were meant to appear oar-like with the woody part of the inner stem reflecting a sort of cross in [twoLeavesUnder] and eyes in [twoLeavesOver]. These loops provide abstract illustrations of how different cultures came to New Zealand and interacted with each other.

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