In Profile: Konstantin’s Blue Trees

The Blue Trees Konstantin, In Profile by Street Furniture Australia

Konstantin Dimopoulos is New Zealand–raised artist who has worked extensively in Melbourne, Australia and is currently based in Tennessee in the US.

His successful environmental art installation The Blue Trees has been re-created around the world, including at Sydney’s Pirrama Park in 2016. StreetChat talks to him about activist art in urban spaces.

The Blue Trees has been installed multiple times around the world. What have you observed from presenting the work to different cultures?

I think that people around the world are basically the same. They all realise the huge issue that we have with global warming and the importance of rainforests and old growth forests to our survival as a species. Purveyors of water, consumers of carbon, treasure-houses of species – the world’s forests are ecological miracles.

People want to help, but ‘life gets in the way’ – mortgage, kids – and they don’t know how to take action. The Blue Trees provides an opportunity to do this peacefully. It attempts to give these ecosystems and trees visibility and voice across multiple sites.

Interestingly, although we hate change, we continually and with disregard change the lives of countless ecosystems and animals on this planet that we share. Every minute we lose 50 football fields of rainforest or old growth forests – it’s madness!

The vibrant blue pigment (the artist uses a biologically safe water-based colorant) painted on tree trunks creates a striking and eerie effect. Why did you choose it?

I think the colour was critical to the success of the installation. We call it ‘Te Greko Blue’. It’s a little play on the fact that, although of Greek heritage, I grew up in New Zealand. Often people look at the work in photos and think that it’s been photoshopped, but it’s exactly what you see.

We used blue simply because there are no blue trees. They only exist in my imagination and the imagination of those who are open to mystery, wonderment, imagination. But the reality and scary part is this: if we are not very careful, the surreal environment that I have created may became real.

For me, blue suggests sacredness, breathlessness and mystery. Colour moves us to a variety of emotions. It is a great antidote to greyness and inertia and dull acceptance – it’s an incredibly powerful stimulant.

Installing The Blue Trees means interacting with the local community – working alongside school children, local volunteers, even the homeless. Can you talk about the collaborative experience?

The Blue Trees has an organic nature that continually changes. In 2003, when I first developed the concept, I created it on my own. Then I was asked by others if they could help, so it grew from there. I like working with people. I’m not an artist who just wants to create and be left alone. It’s great working with communities and schools as they bring something new to the installation.

Konstantin collaborates with local community groups like schools.
Konstantin collaborates with local community groups like schools.

You’ve said that your motivation as an artist is to ‘make a noise’ – in this instance, about global deforestation. How do you measure the success of an artwork in this regard?

Robert Kennedy famously spoke about sending forth ‘a tiny ripple of hope’ to ‘sweep down the mightiest walls.’ The idea of a ripple became paramount in the concept of The Blue Trees, and slowly I saw the ripple of the work growing and moving outwards. It has since gone to over 20 cities and more than 50 sites. It’s created community awareness about deforestation and the importance of trees.

The ripple is just beginning. The importance of The Blue Trees is that ideas can change the world.

Now, I don’t think that The Blue Trees on its own can open people’s eyes to the devastation of deforestation and its consequence, but together with organisations such as Arbor Day, Suzuki Foundation and forestry groups, cities, communities and schools, I think we have chance – not a great chance, but a chance.

The Purple Rain, which you installed in Melbourne in 2015, addressed homelessness. How effective is public art in raising social awareness?

Public art through theatre, music, sculpture, dance is the soul of a community. It is critical to keeping us sane.

My career began in the field of sociology and social work, then I re-trained in the visual arts when I moved to London in the late seventies. So, in the 35 years that I have been practising as an artist, I have been trying to bring these two disciplines together – art and social work.

As a social artist, I have created works that relate to a variety of issues that I felt needed to be addressed: homelessness in The Purple Rain installation, domestic violence in Paradise Lost.

I explored our human impact on the planet in earlier exhibitions, mostly held in galleries and museums, such as Level 4 and Works from a Savage Garden, where I used gorse, a weed-like plant that grows in New Zealand and is hard to destroy. In this way, I related the viral nature of the plant to our own viral status.

I realised early on that, in order to engage with larger audiences, I needed to move into the public domain. Public art is not an easy arena to work in. I sometimes describe it as the ‘hurt locker’ of the art department, because it has the tendency to explode from the varied opinions of the public.

Ultimately, I believe that public art is not so much about understanding what individual works mean, but ensuring the society in which it resides is one that is open to creation, open to wonderment, open to mystery.

Public art, public sculpture and public architecture is the face of a community; it can reveal a society that is strong and certain about its own identity, willing to embrace diversity … perhaps even willing to embrace failure.

Read more about the artist’s work.

Photos courtesy of Konstantin Dimopoulos.

In Profile is a Q&A series featuring Australian influencers of the public realm.

Interviewees are players in the public sphere with compelling stories, not always landscape architects or affiliated with SFA. 

To nominate a subject, please contact the editor via editor@streetfurniture.com

The artist at work in Pirrama Park for Art and About 2016.
The artist at work in Pirrama Park for Art and About 2016.
The artist says he once painted himself blue to prove the safety of the paint for the trees.
The artist says he once painted himself blue to prove the safety of the paint for the trees.
The Blue Trees working group at scenic Pirrama Park on Sydney Harbour.
The Blue Trees working group at scenic Pirrama Park on Sydney Harbour.
The Blue Trees, Pirrama Park in 2016.
The Blue Trees, Pirrama Park in 2016.
Blue Trees for the Vancouver Biennale 2009 to 2011.
Blue Trees for the Vancouver Biennale 2009 to 2011.

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