Branching Out: Sally Smart's Shadow Trees

3rd February 2015

There’s a new addition to Victoria Harbour’s urban architecture, at Buluk Park and the Library at The Dock, where Bourke and Collins Streets meet. You may have noticed it already, perhaps admiring its intriguing forms from afar or taking some time to examine it up close.

The structure in question is Shadow Trees, a new work by renowned Australian artist Sally Smart. Commissioned by Lend Lease for the City of Melbourne and Places Victoria with landscape architects Aspect Oculus, Shadow Trees is an assemblage construction of painted and fabricated mild steel, with plasma-cut silhouette elements, bolts and structural elements. The work casts shadows within its structure, creating a complexity of imagery in which there is always something new to discover.

The form of the tree has a number of resonances with the site; there are imaginative connections to the library and the passing parade of workers and residents in Victoria Harbour. “The imagery for the Shadow Trees connects the natural world with a cultural world and the everyday – with ideas and images resonant in the ‘tree of life’, the ‘tree house’ and the ‘family tree’,” explains Smart. The beautiful text by Maria Tumarkin, engraved in the bluestone paving under the tree, reinforces connections to the library.

The work also nods to Victoria Harbour’s past, both pre-colonial, as a place abundant with plant and bird life, and post-colonial, as a working dock. “The cut-out painted silhouette elements and text are open to interpretation, drawing on references from the site’s history, biology, botany, habitation, movement and language,” says Smart.

The processes of designing and constructing the Shadow Trees involved over 50 people. The final touch has been the installation of lighting by Ramus Design, which will allow the work to be visible at night, adding another layer to its complexity and the potential for further views and interpretation of it.

Smart has gained much satisfaction from seeing the finished work in situ. “This project involved the efforts of a lot of people and it is now exciting to see the Shadow Trees a reality in the space, with the multiplicity of interconnecting elements ensuring an experience of shadow play, day and night.”

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