Trees give us so much, including the air we breath - but what other use could we elicit from trees without physically hurting them? TREExOFFICE, is an environmental civic action project by artist, engineer, and professor Natalie Jeremijenko which proves that co-habitation with trees can be more than just exploiting them for their valuable resources. TREExOFFICE is an open space environment built around a tree that is located in Hoxton Square, London. The tree is outfitted with locally generated power as well as its own wi-fi and is meant to act as a co-working space for both man and nature to collaborate in a symbiotic relationship.
Jeremijenko -- who's known for her work in combining technology with ecology for a "mutualistic systems design" approach, ultimately creating what she calls an "eco-mindshift" -- is posing the question of how would our relationship to nature change if we apply to it the same rules that we live by? Mok, Kimberley. This Tree is a Co-Working Space, & a Landlord. June, 2015. treehugger.com
The project's goal is to change our perception of nature and remind us that our relationship with nature is exactly that - a relationship. TREExOFFICE serves as a sort of ever giving circle of life. Instead of the typical human act of stripping the biological organism of all its resources, we can instead give and receive from the tree, and develop a working relationship that is fair for both the inhabitants of the tree, and the tree itself. Any work done inside of TREExOFFICE goes directly to back to benefit the tree, which in turn pays us back by providing oxygen, shade, and a pleasant work environment. But the tree is more than just a pleasant work environment, Jeremijenko has assigned the tree the role of a landlord -which via sensors and data readouts, gives the tree a mind of its own.
"She likens this paradigm shift to elevating the tree from a "low-paid service worker to a landlord," thus finally recognizing the huge debt that we owe to nature. The project uses modern technology to give trees a voice, with the use of sensors, with the possibility of the tree being hooked up to the Internet of Things" Mok, Kimberley. This Tree is a Co-Working Space, & a Landlord. June, 2015. treehugger.com
By connecting the tree to the Internet of Things, Jeremijenko has given the tree a voice, an opportunity to tell us what it needs, when, and why it needs it.
"The money generated through rental of the space goes directly to the parks department for Hackney Council but it’s earmarked for spending in Hoxton Square, in and around the tree—by the tree, if you will." El-Far, J.J. Motherboard, Vice. May, 2015.
This creates a fascinating juxtaposition between humans and nature. People have always demanded more than nature can provide, and in terms of sustainability this is an unfair relationship with dire consequences for all parties involved.
"Further, the current technological opportunity transforms trees’ capacity to self-monitor and report, tweet, and account for their use by people and other organisms. They themselves account for the variety of uses and services they provide, and they themselves monetize these services, exploit their own assets, and capitalize on their capital. Using simple, inexpensive sensors the trees assume their own voice and capacity to exert corporate personhood within this new structure of ownership." Jeremijenko, Natalie. Motherboard, Vice. May, 2015.
It is important to note that Jeremijenko is not demanding that the users of the tree be entirely selfless in terms of the environment and its offerings; the goal is to create a mutualistic relationship that benefits both humans and nature in a sustainable and pleasant way. The TREExOFFICE points to the way capitalism functions in our society and how mutualistic relationships can be more powerful than trickle down economics.
"Who wants to spend all day in climate-controlled office on Facebook and tweeting when that same technology can be used to facilitate working in the trees and wetlands? I think the responsibility that the emerging generation has is to reinvent their work practices in ways they find compelling and interesting; to go beyond the ping pong table in the Google office and the open plan office and be adventurous in how we work." Jeremijenko, Natalie. Motherboard, Vice. May, 2015.
This technology+nature interactive work environment gives the tree a living, breathing, personality of its own that is capable of providing for us, while simultaneously making necessary demands. By highlighting the importance of a symbiotic relationship between man, nature, and technology. Jeremijenko has reminded us the importance of always striving for a sustainable future. The tree not only acts as an ecosystem interacting with living and non living organisms, but more importantly it acts as a biome. The tree serves as a special type of space that contains a number of progressive ecosystems. It serves a space for nature, technology, and humans to interact as a unified understanding of interdependence.
A similar project that came to mind is a project by artist Amy Youngs titled, Machine for Living Interdependently. The project is a living sculpture that consists of plants, worms, and bacteria that live and rely on each other, as well as human participation.
"They are fed entirely on waste generated by us: coffee grounds and veggie scraps from our kitchen, old newspapers and shredded junk mail from our offices, and carbon dioxide from our breath. They are watered by our rocking leisurely in the chair, which mechanically pushes water up to the top of the ecosystem and causes it to circulate through each part; delivering to the plant roots aerated water that has been fertilized by the worms living in the stream." Youngs, Amy. Machine for Living Interdependently. 2012.
This project relates to TREExOFFICE in the sense that it proves the symbiotic value of humans partnering with living ecosystems. Utilizing the fact that plants provide us with clean air, and worms are able to dispose of waste, we are able to benefit the environment in multiple ways. Machine for Living Interdependently not only keeps waste out of our trash bins and landfills, but most importantly reduces greenhouse gasses which in turn, helps us with our goals of a sustainable future.
Tree communication was invented in 1904 by General George Owen Squire. The invention never really panned out as technology fast surpassed the capabilities of trees, however the creative endeavor did have a comeback during the Vietnam war when:
"U.S. troupes found themselves in the jungle and in need of a reliable and easy to transport system of communication but after that, only a few groups of hobbyists used tree antennas for wireless communication." Regina, Tree Antenna: using trees for radio transmission. April, 2014.
BioArt Laboratory has brought back the long lost practice of tree antennas through a workshop and installation that engages with alternative modes of wireless communication, as well as incorporates ecology, historical practices, and DIY culture.
"The BioArt Laboratory team used flexible metal spring that wrapped around the trunk as planting a nail into the tree would have damaged it. Their system definitely works as the team managed to communicate with amateurs radios from countries as distant as Italy and Ukraine." Regina, Tree Antenna: using trees for radio transmission. April, 2014.
The recreation of the tree antenna - like that of TREExOFFICE has created a dialogue about the beneficial alternate uses of nature, as well as our potential for communicative capacities and a symbiotic relationship with trees. Going further into this concept of a tree as a living network and a vessel for the human voice makes us question the way we abuse nature and its abilities. The tree acts as a network based on the foundation of rhizomes. The roots serve as more than just a connection to the ground, they highlight the commonality between all ecosystems and biomes. Whether the participants are knowingly using the tree as a vessel or a tool is irrelevant. The symbiotic relationship is present regardless. Trees have always represented life, but we always assume that it is humans that takes life from the tree, as if it is a one way street. Viewing the tree not only as a giver of life but as a collaborative network of rhizomes and biomes, highlights the notion that we (nature, humans, and technology) are all interdependent.
TREExOFFICE is a single installation that is open to the general public - it is located in Hoxton Square, London, England.