Sam Durant


This is a view of the studio with work in progress on Upside Down: Pastoral Scene. I used Robert Smithson's Upside Down Tree (1969) as a starting point and a reference to the other ways the tree has been used in American culture. In the Bible and philosophy, the tree is used as a symbol of knowledge. In the Old Testament, the Tree of Knowledge is the source of evil, and man is expelled from paradise for consuming its fruit. In Enlightenment philosophy, the opposite is true: Knowledge is a source of freedom and power. In American culture, the tree has come to represent a brutal dialectic. It is a model of the family and of home—one's family tree and one's roots in the community—but it is also the hanging tree, the lynching tree. The song "Strange Fruit" as sung by Billie Holiday powerfully illustrates the hanging tree. This is the tree that symbolizes America's history of oppression and violence.