Turtle Bench - the social lives of a tree


In western societies when we speak about materials we tend to refer to refined and pure substances, ready for our use. But in the rainforest, material is never unalloyed or disconnected. It is part of a mixture, an entangled and living organism.

While on residency in Suriname we were invited by the GrazMuseum to make a new work for the exhibition Hall of Half-Life. We proposed to produce a museum bench from tropical wood and to document its making. Visitors would be able to sit on the bench while watching the a tree metamorphose into furniture.

Three Arawak woodworkers were willing to make the bench. They proposed to make it in turtle shape as their ancestors taught them. The bench would be low so that visitors of the museum need to use their muscles. “Otherwise their legs weaken and then they might fall”.

The men cut the tree and worked for days. They used the dried skin of a ray fish to sand the turtle’s surface smooth.  When the work was done, they regretted that the artifact would end up in the land of the white.

To resolve the issue we made a duplicate. We sent a white plaster replica of the bench to Graz, and donated the original to the Center for Contemporary Art in Moengo.

The Social Lives of a Tree was commissioned by steirischer herbst, 2015, for the exhibition Hall of Half-Life, GrazMuseum, curated by Tessa Giblin. Supported and co-produced by Tembe Art Studio, Moengo, Suriname.

Thanks to Marcel Pinas, Mr. Liekson, Mr. Alwin Sabajo, Mr. Serge Lingori, Mr. Jerome Doyle.


Plaster replica of wooden bench, HD video 20 min., 2015