The Knowledge of Good and Evil

The Knowledge of Good & Evil

Every time I work on a new piece, I learn something. Sometimes it’s just a new technique or process. But sometimes it’s a lot more.

The Knowledge of Good & Evil was commissioned by my friend, Dr. Kristin McGee, Associate Professor of Popular Music at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. She’s also a member of Groningen’s Boomwachters, or Tree Guardians, a group that fights to protect trees.

Kristin contacted me after seeing several pieces I had recently created using collage and mixed media and asked if I could create a large format piece for her home. The piece would be displayed on a brick wall, so color would need to be complimentary. “Maybe something with trees” was the extent of direction she gave me, trusting my artistic instincts. She is a brave woman.

Tree Art Process gif

I began the creative process by looking through many photos of trees and forests. The images of single, massive trees were the most compelling and I sent several to Kristin for discussion. She then said this: “My thinking was to go with ‘staying with the trouble’ rather than a purely utopian tree image. Seeing trees as surviving ruin and climate change.”

I quick Google search found this quote:

Learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying together on a damaged earth will prove more conducive to the kind of thinking that would provide the means to building more livable futures.

DJ Haraway

The idea emerged to create an image that looks like one thing from a distance (a serene, gnarled old tree), but on closer inspection, is much more complex and conflicted (images of maps, biology, communication, and climate stats).

The images I’ve used to create the larger tree are a sampling of the knowledge we have gathered over time – scientific illustrations showing cell structure and some of the modes of communication trees use to “speak” with other trees, plants, and fungi. As we learn more about these ecosystems, we understand how much more is happening in the forest than we ever imagined. 

Alongside these images are also clippings from articles about climate change, and specifically, Europe’s move toward urban deforestation all in the name of creating “renewable” biomass wood pellets for burning. Kristin’s own city, Groningen, is taking down the beautiful, old trees at a frighteningly rate – 30% of the trees in the city have been cut down in the last 10 years, and they show no sign of slowing down.

As I was piecing it all together, I realized this tree was a symbol of a greater historical tension – symbolizing the battle between caring for the earth and profiting from it. The human race has all the information and tools it needs to create symbiotic systems where care for the environment happens alongside sustainable economics. But, we seem to lack the will to put those systems in place. Humanity is too often overwhelmed by indifference and overcome by greed. 

Once again, humanity chooses short-term profit over stewardship without thought of long-term consequences. This Tree is literally created from the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I recently found an interesting take on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis Chapter 2 in the Bible) from The Bible Project:

Two Trees in a Garden

The Bible introduces us to a garden filled with trees on a high place. In the middle of the garden is the tree of life, a common image in ancient cultures. The tree of life resonates and contrasts with ancient imagery by showing life as a gift that God wants to give humanity. The tree presents the opportunity for humanity to have proximity with God and receive life in his presence.

Another tree is found in the middle of the garden, the tree of knowing good and bad. “Knowing good and bad” is used elsewhere in the Bible to talk about children in moral infancy. God wants to shelter humans from good and bad until they can learn wisdom from him. Humanity now has a choice: receive wisdom from God or take it for themselves.

What an interesting idea… that humanity, in it’s infancy, simply had no experience or wisdom to know what to do with the knowledge it willfully took. And here we are, still struggling to find our balance. This implies knowledge wouldn’t be off limits forever, but only until God could impart wisdom regarding the proper care and feeding of Earth. 

It makes me wonder what wisdom I’m lacking currently, and consequently, what stewardship I may be ignoring? So for now, I’ll be trying to “stay with the trouble,” enjoy the greater beauty, and also look a little more closely at the details.

Sally Kennedy

Sally Kennedy

There is so much to learn and I’m in process, but I can confidently design your brand, teach you how to make a good meal, or help you navigate your relational speed bumps. I don’t like conflict, but recognize and commit to working through it in order to achieve real harmony instead of false unity.

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