Writing on Trees


Last Friday, I came across an installation that is part of the exhibition Walking in My Mind, currently on show at the Hayward Gallery of the Southbank Centre in London. It is a pop art piece called “Ascension of the Polkadots on the Trees” by Yayoi Kusama, a female Japanese artist. It consists of a group of trees dressed with a red plastic fabric with white spots of different sizes.

Every dressed tree has a warning on the ground: “Do not draw or write on the trees. This is an art work — respect it.” People have been ignoring this cautionary advice and have been writing on the fabric — a lot.

Does this make the work less valuable? Have these signatures, drawings, and writings tainted the work of art? “Ascension of the Polkadots on the Trees” has transformed the trees, giving them a new face. I am sure it made these woody enduring plants more noticeable to those who were used to their repetitive appearance to the point of becoming indifferent to their presence. Writing on these transformed trees is a response. In this context, it may even be construed as a reply to an invitation: here we are, changed, covered as if in plaster, and waiting for the acknowledgement of our intensified presence. Writing is therefore a means of marking that someone noticed them, seizing the opportunity to assert their own presence — “I was here”, that is what these written traces say. For a work like this, placed in a public space, this interaction has to be taken as a reverent reaction. Ignoring the warning signs is a way of not ignoring the art work.