A Tree Grows… In Silos?

image courtesy of Ken Wolf

This is not a new phenomenon; plants and trees have rooted where ever habitable, but recently The New York Times wrote about trees taking root in the shelter of abandoned silos.  There is even a Flickr group devoted to these trees.  The oldest photograph in this group dates back to the summer of 2008.

Dwindling agriculture, through the rise of major factory farms, caused many family farms to close.  As The New York Times states, “because it can be more expensive to tear these down than to leave the task to time, they are left to teeter.”  The collapse of small farms left silos barren for decades.  They became free for mother-nature to re-imagine herself.

It brings me great joy to see nature reclaim these structures.  Perhaps, now more that ever, with the Mayan Calendar ending in 2012, people often wonder about the end of the world–but it is a misnomer.  The world will not end, just the era of man.  Earth is a resilient planet. It has transformed and replenished itself over and over, and these silos are just a sprinkling of its possibilities. Though it has moments of ridiculousness, there was a series on the History Channel called Life After People that goes in-depth on how nature may reclaim the structures. It has twenty episodes, ranging from the fact based ideas of trees growing in crumbling buildings to cats learning to fly. Can’t wait.

image courtesy of Ken Wolf

These images are also striking, especially when seen on flickr, in their resemblance to the stoic imagery of German photographer team, Bernd and Hilla Becher. This prolific duo created clean, objective documentation of industrial structures built with function over form, or as they say, ‘buildings where anonymity is accepted to be the style.’ Though their subject is often bleak looking, there is a lot of design and humor in these works. The structures are usually displayed in overwhelming grids. In a grid, the seemingly ordered pipes and rails, that flood the composition, turn chaotic and confusing. This quirky eye can be seen in the snapshots of trees growing in silos as well. The flat landscape and isolated structures feel cold and clinical. The structure has a impenetrable feeling. Yet, tuffs of tree branches peak out from the open tops or cracked sides of the these cinderblock behemoths. The juxtaposition of deteriorating structures and the natural resilience of trees becomes a punch line to man’s hubris…

Or, with much less schadenfreude, they can be seen as a friendly reminder: As we try to pull ourselves out of the fiscal and environmental recession, perhaps we should return to natural living try and mimic the ecosystem. After-all, it has persevered at least a century of direct destruction, pollution, yet continues to grow.

Contributor Brad Silk is an artist, curator, hedonist, and unprofessional who has worked with New York City galleries since 2007. He is Assistant Director at Numberthirtyfive Gallery (numberthirtyfive.com) and will be working with HEREarts Center (here.org) and Art Connects NY (artconnectsny.org). As an artist and curator with both commercial and not-for-profit spaces, he has a unique view into the art world.

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Written by Brad Silk

Brad Silk is an artist, curator, hedonist, and all-around unprofessional who has worked with several New York City galleries since 2007. He is Assistant Director at Cindy Rucker Gallery while pursuing independent curatorial projects. As an artist and curator with both commercial and not-for-profit spaces, he has a unique view into the art world which he uses to propound strong, eco-friendly art.

Upcoming curatorial projects include Wet: David Shoerner and Lyndsy Welgos at Cindy Rucker Gallery, opening June 8, 2013 and the permanent collection of Queens Community House, to unveil in August 2013.


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  • Ken Wolf

     I enjoyed reading your article, but would suggest an alternative to a
    couple of points. You write, “…the rise of major factory farms,
    caused many family farms to close.” I’m not sure the opposite isn’t
    true. That is, factory farms developed to fill the void left by failing
    family farms.

    One mustn’t forget that the (idealized) family farm was 160 acres
    plowed, planted, and harvested on the blood, sweat, and tears of a man,
    his wife, and children—as soon as they were old enough to haul water,
    chop wood, run a team of horses, collect eggs, milk, or perform scores
    of other chores necessary to the running of the “family” farm.

    My mother was raised on such a family farm in the second decade of the
    20th century. As a girl as young as 7 or 8 her job was to bring water
    in from the well and/or lay and start the fire in the kitchen stove.
    All this before going to school (walking or riding a horse). Her two
    older brothers weren’t permitted to attend school beyond 8th grade as
    they were needed on the “family” farm.

    It’s no wonder that given these harsh conditions many people left the
    farm with no fond memories to draw them back as the long-suffering
    parents were finally able to retire to the city where they might be
    greeted by indoor plumbing and electric lights. As a result, those 160
    acres were consolidated until the family farm was essentially gone.
    Today’s family farm is hardly distinguishable from a “factory” farm.

    You further write, “…perhaps we should return to natural living…”
    Now, I don’t know exactly what you mean by “natural” living, but in the
    context of your blog it seems you are referring to a return to the
    “family” farm. To that extent, I can’t believe that anyone would would
    actually welcome a return to that kind of “natural” living.

    I suggest that what so many lament isn’t the passing of the family farm,
    but rather the passing of the evenings when the family was drawn
    together to a hearty meal after a hard day’s work; a time that we
    weren’t constantly bombarded by 24 hour news channels; a time when we
    knew our neighbors and our neighbors’ kids; a time when Twitter and
    Facebook didn’t tell us what everyone was doing 1 minute after they did
    it; a time when “live and let live” was a motto to live by.

    I think we want a simpler, but less harsh time. I fear that door has closed.