"To Bough and To Bend" at Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art
“When true simplicity is gain'd, To bow and to bend we will not be asham'd, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come round right.”
—“Simple Gifts” by Joseph Brackett
“Simple Gifts” is the Shaker song from which To Bough and To Bend borrows its title. Written by Joseph Brackett in 1848, the song was both an instruction for social dance and also for how to live a life of simplicity. Inspired by those ideas, the curators of this exhibition ask, “Do trees not also teach us how to embody this humble posture as they bend their boughs to greet us?”
As they do in Shaker spirituality, trees also feature prominently in many of the world’s religions. Ancient history recounts how their shade and branches have been sites of contemplation, suffering, and renewal. The Bodhi Tree is said to be the site of Siddhārtha Gautama’s awakening as the Buddha. The Tree of Life is found in both the beginning of the Jewish Tanakh and in the last book of the Christian Scriptures. Ancient Chinook prayers address God as the “Maker of Trees.” Trees are rightly called the “architecture of imagination,” writes the novelist Richard Powers.
Today, trees still speak: blunt stumps communicate deforestation while charred limbs speak of Los Angeles fires started by our own hands—or our negligence. New discoveries of communicating root systems speak to a tangled web of connections just below the surface of the visible world, just as LA’s iconic—and imported—palms evoke the vast impacts of our colonial past.
To Bough and To Bend explores these ecological issues and looks to religious and historical art practices to guide us back into fellowship with these old friends and the living world we share.
The first iteration of To Bough and To Bend opened at Bridge Project’s Hollywood gallery in March 2020, on the eve of the COVID pandemic lockdown. Given the circumstances, the exhibition was seen by very few visitors. “A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it,” writes Peter Wohlleben in The Hidden Lifeof Trees. In the solitude of our isolated quarantines, this bore itself out as a human reality as well. The Bridge Projects curatorial team, consisting of Cara Lewis, Meaghan Ritchey, Vicki Smith, Michael Wright, and Linnea Spransy, adds, “We are deeply grateful to the Weisman Museum for giving the exhibition a second life. It is our sincere hope that, like a forest canopy on a hot day, To Bough and To Bend will be a shared space of reflection and rest.”