The sun shone warmly on the Seeds Blacksburg Nature Center, where community members gathered to paint tree branches blue.
Birds chirped, people chatted, and laughter grew louder as wind spattered paint on hands, tarp, and earth.
Robin Boucher, art director for Virginia Tech’s Perspective Gallery, sat cross-legged with a small branch in one hand and a paintbrush in another.
She led a number of Virginia Tech students and New River Valley community members to a stretch of trees on Brush Mountain recently where they painted trees in the path of the planned route for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The inspiration for the project came from the art installation "Coda: Blued Trees," by artist Aviva Rahmani.
Rahmani’s installation will be on display in the Perspective Gallery on the second floor of Squires Student Center, Tuesday through Dec. 17. The trees painted on Bent Mountain will be featured as an art walk Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m.
In 2015, feminist ecological artist Rahmani marked specific trees in Peekskill, New York, with thick ribbons of blue. The paint she used was non-toxic and made of buttermilk to encourage the growth of mosses. When viewed from above, the painted trees appeared to compose a musical score.
Those painted trees reflected the path of a projected natural gas pipeline, which would displace the trees.
By marking the trees and transcribing their geological placement as notes in a musical score, Rahmani hoped to not only give the silent trees a voice, but also prevent the possible expansion of the pipeline.
It was her hope that the copyrighted artwork might protect the trees, if only temporarily, from the pipeline’s eminent domain claims to the land.
The original trees in New York have since been torn down, but since its inception what was known as the “Blued Trees Symphony” has been installed at 11 other sites internationally and includes copyrighted art at three of the sites.
Boucher worked hard to ensure awareness about the trees would reach as many people in the New River Valley as possible by presenting "Coda: Blued Trees" as a site-specific art installation in the Perspective Gallery.
Visitors to the gallery will see painted branches suspended from the ceiling, accented with phrases intended to provoke thought.
Bronwyn Busher, of Botetourt, Virginia, a senior majoring in visual communication design in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, created the panels for the exhibition as a project with FourDesign in the School of Visual Arts (SOVA) at Virginia Tech.
“The goal of the installation is to make people want to know more, to inspire them to delve deeper to understand these laws and the true effect that installing a pipeline will have on this community and future generations to come,” said Boucher.
The Gallery will be hosting a weeklong artist-in-residency with Rahmani, including a public lecture titled, “Chasing the Spirit of Art and the Public Good” at the Lyric Theatre on Thursday at 5 p.m. The talk is part of the Women and Minority Artists and Scholars Lecture Series sponsored by the Office of the Provost through Arts@Virginia Tech.
Rahmani will also speak at the exhibit’s opening reception on Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Perspective Gallery. The reception will include music inspired by Blued Trees and a recitation by students from the Virginia Tech Music Department, under the direction of faculty members Alan Weinstein, Charles Nichols, and Anne Stevens.
The events are free and open to the public.
In an interview with WVTF-RADIO IQ Public Radio, Rahmani spoke of her hopes for the project, referencing the doubt about whether the symphony will end in victory in the New River Valley.
“The ideas in this project – the legal ideas, the aesthetic ideas – they can destroy every last trace of the project, but the ideas can’t be killed because once you get an idea out there it’s never lost,” said Rahmani.
Her words are echoed by Boucher and the community members painting alongside her, working to compose a visual ally for the trees’ song.
The Perspective Gallery, located on the second floor of Squires Student Center, is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The gallery is closed Mondays except during evening recitals and plays in Squires Studio Theatre and Recital Salon. The Perspective Gallery is closed during scheduled campus breaks and holidays.
Written by Madeline Sault of Arlington, Virginia, a senior triple majoring in business information technology, professional and technical writing, and English creative writing in the Pamplin College of Business and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.