The Bone Tree
by Dana Albany

Dana Albany, The Bone Tree, bones, steel, moss, audio system, generator, 27 ft high, 1999.
(©Dana Albany. Photo:Holly Kreuter)

In 1999, the Burning Man annual theme, the Wheel of Time, included a procession into the coming millennium. Searching for an appropriate icon, Larry Harvey asked me to create a central sculpture for that event. Larry talked about "something" that would travel into the past and future. Originally he considered DNA as a representative symbol, but I'd been thinking about a bone sculpture for several years and proposed instead a tree made of bones. Working in the desert where cattle grazed nearby, I had access to all the bones I needed. I wanted to use an artifact of death to create a tree, as a way of paying homage to the existence of all life.

To create this structure, I designed and constructed a mobile, interactive sculpture I named The Bone Tree, which consisted of a 27-ft steel frame tower mounted on five wheels like the base of an office chair, allowing it to be freely pushed around the Wheel of Time. The tower was completely covered with thousands of cattle bones. It also contained a lighting system for night illumination, an audio system and a generator. It looked very eerie sitting on the playa, biding its time, knowing that sooner or later all living creatures turn to bone and that metaphorically all the bones would come to it.

The Bone Tree served several purposes. It was a tribute to the passage of time in which living animals transform from flesh to bone, a final reminder of their presence on earth. It was also an interactive sculpture in that its mobility was derived from participants who pushed it in a sweeping circle around the the Wheel of Time installations. This clockwise orbiting of the Bone Tree around the Wheel of Time acted as a magnet in drawing passersby to follow it and in turn be introduced to the various installations that were featured in sequence that evening. The third aspect of the Bone Tree was performance as it included a miniature stage where Father Time appeared with his acolytes who danced in front of him.

The Bone Tree came to a very fitting end in the desert that year. After a ferocious wind storm, one of my friends walked up to me and said, "Did you hear about the Bone Tree?" She told me that the wind storm blew the Bone Tree across the playa, pushing it so far out that it was at least a mile from camp. What is especially interesting is that all of the extra bones stored under the Bone Tree's frame had been shaken loose, leaving a trail of bones behind it the whole length of its journey.

I thought this was amazing because I had always envisioned the Bone Tree out on the playa and felt it was meant to return to the desert, and it did.

Dana Albany
574 Hickory Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

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