WeHo Speaks to Drought with Creative Expression

Tim Murphy's "And the Tree Was Happy" installation in Plummer Park.
Tim Murdoch’s “And the Tree Was Happy” installation in Plummer Park.

West Hollywood has launched its “Can You Dig It?” temporary land art exhibition with an installation in Plummer Park by San Diego-based artist Tim Murdoch.

The installation, “And The Tree Was Happy,” is inspired by Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” and Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax.” Tt features a contrast of salvaged man-made materials and arboreal nature, and is intended to invite a conversation about environmental stewardship.

Can You Dig It? was conceived to address the California drought through creative expression, and falls under Art on the Outside, West Hollywood’s ongoing public art program that installs rotating temporary artworks on the city’s medians and in its parks. Proposals from 61 artists/artist teams nationwide were reviewed in late 2015, and four have been selected for installation to date. Next up is Miki Iwasaki’s “Aqueous Skin,” scheduled to be completed by the end of February 2016, also in Plummer Park.

The title of Murdoch’s work “And The Tree Was Happy” references the end of Shel Silverstein’s book “The Giving Tree,” in which a boy and a tree are intertwined in the passage of time and the loss of youth, and the boy uses up everything the tree has to give. Murdoch says, “I gave that book to my nephew and it really stuck in my head. When I was doing the proposal for Can You Dig It?, it seemed like a perfect story to point to in addressing what’s happening in our environment, that we’re taking so much and not giving anything back.”

Murdoch also cites the Seussian fable “The Lorax” as an influence. It that story, the Lorax is the environmental protector whose message finally gets through to the greedy Once-ler, who ultimately tells the boy of this story, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

That possibility for redemption, and for caring a lot—along with “The Giving Tree”’s cautionary tale—are central to what Murdoch hopes to convey with “And The Tree Was Happy.” “Both authors,” he said, “have a way of writing that can be startling and harsh, but Dr. Seuss has humor, and Silverstein has such an underlining of beauty and poetry. There are so many layers to each book. Like all great children’s books, they’re great adult books.”

“And The Tree Was Happy” is composed of repurposed polyethylene pipes that Murdoch salvaged from dumpsters and construction sites. Welded together, they spiral up from the trunk and lower branches to the treetops, culminating in tulip-like funnels open to the sky, ready to catch rainwater (El Nino, bring it on). At the tree’s base sits a bulbous knob containing a faucet to access any water that might be captured (estimation is that it would take a downpour of at least 22 gallons to reach the faucet). The valve represents a crossroads, says Murdoch—“We could choose to take the water and use it for ourselves, or we could choose to return the water to the tree for sustenance.”

Murdoch says that when the installation started, and pieces of pipe were on the ground waiting to be installed, children in the park would pick them up and play with them. As work commenced, many park visitors were concerned that the tree was being harmed. Others thought it might be a functional irrigation system of some sort. “When we explained it,” he says, “a lot would go on. They understood.”

Next up for Can You Dig It? is Miki Iwasaki’s “Aqueous Skin,” a suspended canopy composed of recycled and repurposed automotive and scrap metal remnants arranged to resemble the surface of water. Installation in Plummer Park is scheduled to be completed by the end of February. Projects by Doron Gazit (“Burnt Forest: Drawing the Line”) and the team of Brett Snyder, Edward Morris and Sussanah Sayler (“Food-Prints”) have also been approved and commissioned, with scheduling to be announced.

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mike dunn
7 years ago

In both West Hollywood and Los Angeles one can see sidewalks being hosed down with high pressure devices every night in business areas. In addition while West Hollywood advocates little watering of plants and trees on private property the Santa Monica Bl. medium is over watered nightly with the excess running into the street.

Secret Gardener
6 years ago
Reply to  mike dunn

Can someone point me to a space in which I can address the reckless destruction of bird-nesting habitat in the gardens of West Hollywood? If there is any purpose at all to having greenery that doesn’t provide what mature trees do—the shade, etc—it’s that any shrubbery, bush, even vine, can offer birds a spot that seems to welcome nesting. But that is deceptive. The same people who waste our water in their yards—turn on the heavy machinery & cut into the green ALL THROUGH BIRD-NESTING SEASON. Right now, the “gardener” who replied to my request, a couple of years ago,… Read more »

7 years ago

Take a walk down Sunset Plaza a couple days a week at 6am as well and watch them hose down all the sidewalks. Not to mention the flowers are all ripped out every few weeks and replaced with new water sucking annuals. But we know why those sidewalks are kept pristine – $$$.

Secret Gardener
7 years ago
Reply to  wehoray

That IS illegal, isn’t it? Using water as a broom?
(I wish it were also illegal to use leaf-blowers as brooms, especially since it just pushes litter from one spot to another, creates outrageous noise pollution, and raises dust so that we all breathe it in instead of walk over it)

7 years ago

Take a walk by Restoration Hardware around 6am and watch them hose down the building and the sidewalks. This has been going on for a very long time.

J Simmons
J Simmons
7 years ago

@SecretGarden… I hope this is going to confirm the City’s original plans to redo Plummer Park by cutting down upto 50 old trees in favor of new vast green lawns. I never see wehovill report definitively about the current and ongoing plans for the park.

luca d
luca d
7 years ago

the money spent on this ridiculous project and the $500,000 paid out to ian owens would have been money well spent on helping homeless persons in west hollywood.

Secret Gardener
7 years ago

I’d prefer that the city actually address the drought by trying to save water, after wasting it absolutely pointlessly for decades. No one should be allowed to water anything other than trees, and perhaps vegetables. That’s it. If people are too stupid and selfish to have replaced lawns with native, drought-resistant plants, then their ugly, useless lawns would become dead, brown, ugly useless lawns—-making no effective difference to anyone. —-If dandelions and clover were permitted to sprout there, for the bees, butterflies, and other beneficial pest-eating insects, or grass allowed to go to seed for birds to enjoy, there would… Read more »

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