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close-up view of player piano roll scrolling through a player piano

María Elena González’s Tree Talk is a multisensory, multimodal rumination on nature and art. The basic building block of the installation is the birch tree—its bark, its presence in the Maine woods, and the ways in which its animating spirit inspired the artist.

Seeing the similarities between the striations on birch bark and the perforations on player-piano rolls that specify notes, González leapt conceptually from the visual, tactile bark to music. She used rubbings and tracings of the horizontal marks on flattened pieces of birch bark as templates for laser-cutting paper piano rolls. The density of the resulting notations makes the player piano the only instrument capable of reproducing these polyphonic, rhythmic “scores.”

Expanding the installation from the bark itself to a variety of expressive media, González included video, sound, drawing, and collage. The visitor’s first encounter is with a video projected to fill a quadrant of the Museum’s largest gallery. Tempo envelops us in the hush and serenity of the landscape. Although only one minute in duration, this time-based experience forces us to slow down, to observe, and to contemplate. That calming and focusing of our attention sets the pace, the “tempo,” for moving through Tree Talk. It is a quiet experience, rich in interpretive possibilities.

In each segment of the installation, the artist’s mind and hand are evident—observing, sorting, editing, choosing—as she crystallizes the physical, spatial, and spiritual essence of the birch tree and this aesthetic moment.

Mara Williams, Chief Curator


Brattleboro Museum & Art Center
10 Vernon Street
Brattleboro, VT 05301


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