John Grade | OSU Memorial Union Quad
Presented by PRAx, the College of Forestry, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Office of the Provost with support from: the Patricia Valian Reser Arts and Education Complex Endowments, the Evans Curatorial and Collections Fund and the Jim and Peggy Wiggett Arts & Communication Fund.
John Grade’s monumental sculpture Emeritus is inspired by the form of an absent tree. Suspended in the middle of Oregon State University’s giant sequoias, Emeritus invites viewers to peer vertically into the hollow, ghostly space of an imagined fourth trunk, formed of tens of thousands of cast and carved pieces that make reference to the species’ cones, needles and branches. Additionally, superficially burnt areas of Emeritus invoke the trees’ complex relationship to wildfire.
Like many of Grade’s works — which are commonly transformed by the action of rain, wind, insects, weather and other forces — the intent of Emeritus is to live parallel to and be transformed by our regional botanical ecosystem. The work is ideally seen both by day and at night, when it is softly illuminated.
Visitors are welcome to visit Emeritus 24 hours a day. In respecting OSU’s 100-year-old sequoia grove, we ask that you refrain from climbing the trees in this area or leaving behind any unnatural materials.
About the artist
John Grade (American, born 1970 in Minneapolis, MN) lives and works in Seattle, Wash.
Inspired by changing geological and biological forms and systems in the natural world, John works with his studio team to sculpt immersive large-scale, site-specific installations. Kinetics, impermanence and chance are often central to the work.
Recent projects draw inspiration from mountains in Nevada’s Great Basin, highland forests in Guatemala and changing landforms above the Arctic Circle. Beginning a series investigating natural disasters, upcoming large-scale sculptures will relate directly to forest fires, windstorms and earthquakes.
John is the recipient of the 2010 Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (NY), a Tiffany Foundation Award (NY), three Andy Warhol Foundation Grant Awards (NY), two Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grants (NY), the 2011 Arlene Schnitzer Prize from the Portland Art Museum (Ore.) and the 2013 Arts Innovator Award from Artist Trust (Wash.).
The sculpture is suspended from cables attached to straps cushioned by wood spacers. Six climbers installed the sculpture using specialized arborist techniques involving no spurs, fasteners, or any other elements that could damage the sequoias. The climbers included John Grade, College of Agricultural Sciences Research Associate Yung- Hsiang (Sky) Lan and Artist-in-Residence at OSU’s H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Leah Wilson.
College of Forestry research
College of Forestry researchers, with the support of the artist, are collecting data about the ecological conditions of the sculpture while it is installed in the sequoia grove for 14 months. Data collection efforts include:
- Bioacoustic monitoring of the sequoia grove for avian communities. This technique relies on artificial intelligence to auto-ID bird sounds recorded throughout the tree canopy. The data help researchers understand how species are changing in response to climate and habitat change. Audio recorders capture bird species (and other species such as bats) that are hard to see but vocalize often.
- Using automated dendrometers to track tiny changes in trunk diameter that take place throughout the day and across seasons. This allows researchers to better understand a tree’s growth patterns and water status, including loss and absorption of water from the soil and the air in response to weather variations.
- Creating an inventory of canopy biodiversity by collecting eDNA data from rainwater that percolates through the tree canopy and touches plant, animal and fungal species on its way to the forest floor. Using this novel method, researchers can detect well-known and new species.
Estimated at over 2,200 years old, a giant sequoia (sequoiadendron giganteum) in California’s Sequoia National Park represents the largest known single-stemmed tree in the world. At a little over 100 years old, the three giant sequoias in OSU’s Memorial Union quad are much younger. Although today the species only occurs naturally in the Sierra Nevadas, fossil records indicate that the subfamily (sequoioideae) once occupied vast regions. Giant sequoias are adapted to fire by their thick, insulating bark and serotinous cones, which open to propagate the species when their resins melt. Even so, the species is vulnerable to the increased intensity and scale of wildfires in the modern era and the giant sequoia is designated as a threatened species.
202 volunteers contributed 436 volunteer hours to assist in assembling Emeritus over six days in October 2022.
"The sculpture is inspired by trees. It's inspired by the interface between science and art but there's also a really important social component, and I've been really frankly amazed at the level of engagement in the community here at OSU. It's really something I've never experienced to this degree—we've had hundreds of people participate in the project."
- John Grade
Response by Leah Wilson
“In October 2022 I was invited to help install John Grade’s sculpture Emeritus in Oregon State University’s Sequoia Grove in the Memorial Union Quad. The invitation came because of my experience climbing the Discovery Tree for Listening to the Forest which is included in OSU’s permanent collection. PRAx furthers the university’s commitment to integrating the arts with the science for which OSU is known, especially forest science. John Grade’s sculpture celebrates this commitment. I was asked to give a response to Grade’s work and to connect it with Listening to the Forest.”
– Leah Wilson