Now you know your A-B-Trees
May 13, 2022 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Occlusion Grotesque is an experimental typeface that is carved into the bark of a tree. As the tree grows, it deforms the letters and outputs new design variations, that are captured annually. The project explores what it means to design with nature and on nature's terms.
posted by secretdark (32 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
posted by saturday_morning at 8:41 AM on May 13

As an arborist this is a big nope for me.

Carve your own skin and then tell me it happened on "nature's terms" and caused no harm to the tree/you.
posted by ecourbanist at 8:43 AM on May 13 [32 favorites]

There are already initials carved into trees all over the place, too. We can observe them.
posted by clew at 8:50 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

I agree it's wankish bs wording but I also don't think it's a heinous crime against some small tree in what I assume is a private woodland. No worse than chopping it down and using the wood, or as part of a scientific study. I don't think we should have a blanket ban on using tees and wood for art, crafting, etc.

I was expecting most of the progressions, but the 'm' surprised me a bit. I'm not convinced the guy knows much about how trees and bark grow. It would have been better artistically and for the tree to space them out more, or even spread them among conspecific trees of similar age.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:52 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]

“This font gets worse over time!”

This is an interesting project, but I’m not sure I can use the output for anything.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:54 AM on May 13

from a tiny akern a mighty treebuchet doth grow
posted by chavenet at 9:58 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]

As an arborist this is a big nope for me.

Carve your own skin and then tell me it happened on "nature's terms" and caused no harm to the tree/you.

This legit confuses me. I'd think I'd prefer having my skin carved to my limbs lopped off because nearby structures (or their occupants aesthetic preferences, or their pool filter) can't put up with my natural deterioration.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:42 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]

A tree’s occlusion is the process whereby a wound - or in this case carvings - is progressively closed by the formation of new wood and bark.

Nice rhetorical trick here but if your project is based on the idea that the tree is participating in your project, then it logically follows that the project starts by first you create a wound in a living thing's body without its consent. It's hard for me to respect something like that. It's an interesting idea for sure. But if the Lorax isn't around then somebody's got to speak for the trees. We need them to live. Let's show a little respect. Showing respect is traditionally how we preserve things that we need.
posted by bleep at 11:18 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]

It's one tree in the forest and the "wound" is like getting a tattoo, designed to heal.
posted by Press Butt.on to Check at 12:42 PM on May 13

It seems like this is going to become an extended fight over language. e.g. Karmann writes that “[The process] all starts with the handover from the designer to the tree by tracing and carving an initial typeface.” “Handover” and other language that implies that the tree is a partner in the project and not simply an organic medium with which the designer is working as a constraint is kind of ridiculous, and Karmann is being silly.

That said, trees and tree bark seem like a medium people have worked with for a long time. Does a tree prefer having a limb chopped off to having its bark carved into? Man, I have no idea. Trees don’t perceive the world like you and I, that’s for certain. They also probably aren’t big fans of woodpeckers boring into them either or beavers stripping their branches, but that’s what’s gonna happen in those particular relationships. The issue here is mostly with implying a relationship a partnership when it isn’t.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:05 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

I mean, "perspective" and other language that implies that a painting is a three-dimensional space and not simply a two-dimensional surface with which the artist working as a constraint is kind of ridiculous, too, but it's fun to play along.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 1:44 PM on May 13

Well, yes, but an artist doesn’t usually imply that they are collaborating with the canvas.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:28 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]

Tattoo artists sure do.
posted by hototogisu at 3:09 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]

Yes, but people give consent to tattoo artists while trees just kind of sit there.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:28 PM on May 13

Oh, totally. I think the usage here is a little wonky, but the notion of collaboration is definitely out there with respect to some forms of art.
posted by hototogisu at 3:34 PM on May 13

I've seen this in passing a couple times the last couple days and I just want to go on record as saying it is absolutely fucking fantastic.
posted by cortex at 4:00 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]

As an arborist this is a big nope for me.

Carve your own skin and then tell me it happened on "nature's terms" and caused no harm to the tree/you.

Sapsuckers will drill thousands of holes into a single tree. Woodpeckers dig big deep holes in trees. Beavers will strip all the bark of the base of a large tree. Nature's Terms are much worse than this.
Trees are built to survive all kinds of abuse. This was unnatural but not really very serious damage.
posted by srboisvert at 4:29 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]

dunno, never seen Treebread at the bar showing of his Z̴o̸S̴o̴ tattoo.
posted by clavdivs at 9:37 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]

dunno, never seen Treebread at the bar showing of his Z̴o̸S̴o̴ tattoo.

Maybe not Treebeard, but I can totally see Quickbeam being into it.
posted by Zumbador at 9:49 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]

Slightly related I suppose. In England there's these old flat gravestones where the writing has eroded and made it fairly illegible. But the shallow carving is still able to hold dew and rain which is loved by moss. So you get this!
posted by vacapinta at 2:09 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]

How does one go about obtaining consent from a tree?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:00 AM on May 14

Those mossy carvings are neat! It's very poetic to think of a living thing (moss) filling in what was taken away when a person died, and in so doing, making that life legible again.

The tree carver at least seems to have been thoughtful (carving only on one side, because stripping the bark all the way around would kill the tree). But it feels like a more pretentious version of "jt ♥️ fn 2014"
posted by basalganglia at 4:14 AM on May 14

Interesting! Thanks for sharing.
posted by harriet vane at 4:30 AM on May 14

While I'm against random vandalism of trees, especially ones held in the public commons in parks large and small, if this is on private land it's not that big of a deal.

Nature does much worse to trees all the time. Not just woodpeckers or bark beetles, but a trees own limbs can fall off in high winds and scrape off a large segment of bark that will gall and heal.

And if you're upset about someone using them for an art project while the tree lives you better be even more upset about toilet paper, shopping online and getting things in kraft paper boxes, hardwood timber used in building furniture and more.

I might be projecting here but it's not any stretch of the imagination that I could see someone posting about being outraged by this tree bark typography while sitting at an heirloom desk or table made out old growth oak or maple in a house with wood floors.

People do all kinds of art with living plants and trees, including braiding them into furniture, splicing them to make orchards, weaving them into living fences and hedgerows and all kinds of stuff.

And if you're still upset about it there's an amazingly easy solution: Go plant a tree.
posted by loquacious at 8:28 AM on May 14

This is less damaging than harvesting maple syrup, but it is so much more pretentious.
posted by acrasis at 8:34 AM on May 14

I actually like the execution and documentation of this project, and I really like trees. Granted I live in a place that is very rich in trees, and my stance on forestry products and practices has somewhat softened with understanding and experience.

I would also be interested in seeing this project replicated with human body mods like branding and/or scarification. There has to be a typography and body mod nerd out there that would be down with having a Helvetica letter set carved into them.
posted by loquacious at 9:07 AM on May 14

There has to be a typography and body mod nerd out there that would be down with having a Helvetica letter set carved into them.

Especially in pangram form! I just have to figure out where on my body to carve “Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz”…
posted by oulipian at 11:16 AM on May 14

Cool project, thanks for posting!

How does one go about obtaining consent from a tree?

One doesn't, which is why it's a little silly to say things like
The project challenges how we humans are terraforming and controlling nature to their own desires, which has become problematic to an almost un-reversible state. Here the roles have been flipped, as nature is given agency to lead the process, and the designer is invited to let go of control and have nature take over.
Carving stuff into a tree isn't giving that tree "agency" just because you're not doing other/more stuff to the tree.

That said, I feel bad for artists who have to come up with artists' statements, like, the art is the statement in the first place?

Also, given that this person is Danish, and English is likely a second language, I think that the connotations of words like "agency" are probably lost a bit in translation.

So while I understand the people pointing out some of the ironies here, I don't think we necessarily need to treat artists' statements as some kind of uberserious text that has to be unimpeachable or make all that much sense.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:11 PM on May 14

I feel the artists statement is new but not good, and initials carved in living tree bark are not new.

And then it’s kind of funny that the artist claims to have not known how trees grow; and not funny that the obvios cool thing to do is not to learn more, or even observe more, but to dump some observations into a GANN and let it shake out some plausible iterations.

I assume someone has already run a GANN on a collection of artists statements.

The jig to align and deskew successive photos was fine.
posted by clew at 2:41 PM on May 14

I really liked this! Agree that the artist's statement was a bit wonky, but I generally don't take the artist's statement all that seriously, anyway.

I loved the little mounds, divets and ridges that the tree grew within each letter. Those were lost in the conversion to a solid, 2D typeface, but they're so fascinating to me.
posted by wym at 3:10 PM on May 14

If you think this artist's process is unsound, you ain't seen what our donkeys did to the trees in our back yard before we stopped them. So much bark chewed off in so little time. The trees have fully recovered now, even the one that got within two inches of total ringbarking, but it was touch and go for many months.
posted by flabdablet at 1:17 AM on May 15

crawling along the concrete, muttering requests for consent to the lichen ahead of each careful knee
posted by Sebmojo at 1:19 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]

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