Treedom – Displaced, Disconnected, Environmentalism

‘Sunset’ My Pet Tree

ART on the MOOC: Merging Public Art and Experimental Education,
For Duke University


The intent of the project was to displace an object so that it’s likely placement would provoke thoughts and responses about environmentalism, social media and disconnection.

Taken to the extreme, we may see a day when a tree could become a pet. On the other side, environmentalism is often seen as a form of religion with us as the gods.

“For some individuals and societies, the role of religion seems increasingly to be filled by environmentalism. It has become “the religion of choice for urban atheists,” according to Michael Crichton, the late science fiction writer (and climate change sceptic).

“We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability.”

The video is also a critique on social media and 21st century relationships based on human projections onto animals. Social media has made pets famous. Youtube hosts an annual LOLCAT video contest. We make videos of pets and memes of animals are human projections. We are more and more connected to our pets than we are committed in love relationships.

And it is financially successful. In one of many examples, investor Ben Huh, bought the site icanhascheezbuger, a site based on pet meme photos. The site now boasts 1.6 million views per day.

In an article entitled “Why Do We love Our Pets”, in Psychology Today, Gwen Cooper answers it this way:

“…the truth is that it's so easy to make an animal happy-so much easier than it seems to be to make other people happy.”

The project uses humour to entice the passersby into engaging. The video was created to mimic an amateur pet story by using basic photography shot on a cell phone and edited it with personal comments.

The music is an old fashioned music box playing “You Are My Sunshine” from 1939. The music box plays out the child-like innocence of one’s first pet.

By personalizing the experience and taking it to the extreme, I am asking the public to consider the possibility of trees as pets. At the same time, anyone with a pet may relate to the childlike fun that comes from connecting to ‘someone’ you love.


There were several reactions to the project. Generally the tree was seen as fun, amusing. There were a few people that seemed annoyed at the act. And there were others that seemed to react out of fear, as if I was perhaps reliving a Twin Peaks moment.

From a personal experience, it was surprisingly easy to project emotions into the tree. It was not hard to imagine this as a next step in the 21st century environmental religion.

As an artist, the experience was process based. Each step along the way fed into the direction the project took. Initially the tree would be a tourist, new to the big city and taken around to all the sights. After arranging to be included in a city tour, I realized that it had to be more personal to make the point. One can empathize with the story, relate to the emotion, the desire to love and connect.

The project has potential to be expanded into a series of ‘adventures ‘and pet tree memes with a website for additional tree pet lovers.I

If anyone is interested in participating in further work with this project, contact