Tree hugging is serious business. Given that the average tree lives for over a hundred years, I can’t imagine that the occasional quickie squeeze does much to make the tree feel special. Where’s the commitment? The other alternative is to chain yourself to a tree, but that’s only one tree. You just know the others will feel left out.
Trixi Rittenhouse solved this conundrum by stationing a cadre of permanent huggers on the 14 trees that line her Mile End block. Cobbled together from recycled materials, each tree hugger is a complete and distinct character. On both the north and south sides of Labadie west of avenue du Parc and spilling out onto Hutchison, they are easily the most whimsical and unexpected installations ever to grace this “Outremont-adjacent” (in real estate-speak) neighbourhood.
Urban guerilla gardener, artist, grandmother, and long time clothes designer, Rittenhouse concocted the idea over the winter. She wanted to do something creative and concrete for Earth Day, something that signaled hope for the future. Designed and installed on her own – “except for my husband, he learned how to braid” – the creations are a reminder that trees exist independent of us and our need for urban shade. They not only make life – and oxygen – possible on this planet, they have a legitimate right to existence. Rittenhouse honours this presence.
Playful though they are, they also mask a darker concern. “I’m scared about the future, that’s why I’m trying to put a positive spin on things. We live in an industrial world where the Republicans and Stephen Harper are so awful. Doing all sorts of things all because of oil and greed. Canada has the second largest oil deposit on the planet and we didn’t even ratify Kyoto.”
Rittenhouse makes a link between this high-level greed and what happened on her street a couple of nights ago. One of her installations was ripped down by a “bunch of teenagers just passing by.” It’s all the same continuum, she says, “greed and power. Who will these kids grow up to be?”
Some people have made analogies between Rittenhouse’s installations and graffiti – that other unsolicited public art. But she rejects this adamantly and refers back to her power and greed continuum. “What do they do? They go around writing their name everywhere, defacing property, making everything uglier. They are negative and destructive, just like the worst governments.”
Future projects for Rittenhouse, a creative and prolific powerhouse, include a blog featuring her political drawings and posters, and ideas for a city-wide tree hugging project for 2013. The latter, she says, would certainly be a step up from the “stiff and boring marching” we manage today.
Originally intended to stay up only until the end of this weekend, Rittenhouse has had such overwhelmingly positive feedback she is considering waiting another week before taking them down. Be sure to walk by and say hello. Heck, why not give them a hug.
ADDENDUM: In a note from Trixi on the morning of April 28:
Last night someone stole “Hugger” Rose on Hutchison. The feet were made from plastic President’s Choice bags with an all over print of green slogans and logos advocating personal “responsibility” to preserve and protect the environment, One only hopes the vandals can read:
“Till Goths, and Vandals, a rude northern race,
Did all the matchless monuments deface.
Then all the Muses in one ruin be,
And rhyme began to enervate poetry.” John Dryden