Klaus Littmann's stunning ark-like sculpture turns a single tree into a piece of art

The Swiss artist's new installation, Arena For a Tree, encased in a basket-type structure of wooden ribs, not only asks audiences to reflect on themes of nature and sustainability, but delivers a stark warning on climate change.

Unveiled in Venice as part of the opening for the 60th International Art Exhibition, the Arena For a Tree installation sees Basel-based visual artist Klaus Littmann take a bald cypress tree and transport it to a floating platform in the waters around the historic Arsenale Nord.

Nestled in a grandstand that can accommodate up to 50 people at a time, it acts as an immersive experience in which viewers can witness an organism-cum-sculpture out of context as its roots safely drink away from a water basin.

Creating a striking contrast to its surroundings, the installation asks audiences to pause and reflect on themes of migration and identity. The decision to showcase a bald cypress tree is no coincidence either. Drawing inspiration from the Biennale's main exhibition, Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, it cannily ties into the ever-looming spectre of global warming.

That's because the bald cypress, known for the russet-red fall colour of its lacy needles, is an indigenous feature of various regions worldwide. Currently, it can be found in central and southern America, but as temperatures continue to climb, it is only a matter of time before the tree starts to take root in Europe.

"The Bald Cypress has an exceptional ability to pump up to 800 litres of flood water per day, cool the surrounding atmosphere, withstand hurricane-level winds and storms, and withstand temperature extremes, making it particularly resilient to the challenges of climate change and some of the challenges faced by Venice in particular," says landscape architect Enzo Enea, who has been collaborating with Littmann on the project.

Made possible with support from the arts foundation Kulturstiftung Basel H. Geiger | KBH.G and the collaboration of the European Cultural Centre in Italy, Arena For a Tree builds on themes and approaches tackled in Littmann's earlier work, in particular For Forest: The Unending Attraction of Nature.

This piece, which ranks as Austria's largest public art installation, saw 299 trees standing up to 14 metres tall on the football field of the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt in 2019. An accompanying exhibition titled Tree Connections followed in 2021 in Basel before moving to Zurich in 2022. Arena For a Tree is the final iteration of the project and the first to include water as a "critical global environmental element".

Speaking of his latest work, Littmann said: "When the trees are in leaf, we see a beacon of hope in them. When they drop their leaves, we think about impermanence. The tree is a sign of life, a representative of the diversity of species and a witness to the vulnerability of the global ecosystem."


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