Exhibitions | 2002
Project Room, Philadelphia, PA

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In June 2002, Project Room presented "IMAGINA," featuring Japanese artist Keiko Miyamori. Ms. Miyamori discovered a huge tree trunk at Girard Avenue and 11th street. This area once hosted a city housing project whose buildings have been knocked down. The trees were bulldozed as well.

Ms. Miyamori saw that many trees had been broken and thrown together with construction debris. She asked to have one of the trees laid down on the construction site in order to work on her exhibition for the gallery nearby.

Project Room is a harbinger of things to come. This area will definitely experience significant changes over the next few years. In the future, people will never think about the old buildings, the mess of trash and the trees, let alone the people who used to live here. Memories will fade out.

Miyamori presented a 1-ton, 5-foot root. The bricks, metal and glass scraped out from the root were also shown. The gallery has a high ceiling and window, which Ms. Miyamori used with a prism to reflect light from the sun. A swing, suspended from the ceiling, guides you to imagine another world. A video documentary by Abbe Klebanoff was also shown.

By Benjamin Morse

"Everything," answered the disciple, "how can I see everything?" The sage continued, "Seeing is a manifold experience. You must not only be aware of what is in front of you here and now but you must also imagine all possibilities of past, present and future realities and act accordingly. Then you will take part in Wisdom. You must learn to imagine."

This is the challenge Keiko has set for us; to stretch our notion of seeing beyond the here and now and spur us to see with our mind's eye. To help us, Keiko provided an object to use as a point of departure for our imagination. This object, which was once part of a sturdy leafy oak tree on the corner of 11th and Girard near the Cambridge Plaza Housing Project, is now lying before us with its insides out, bare for all to see. So what do you see? Squirrels, birds or images of the Lenni Lenape roaming the pre-urban jungle of present day Philadelphia or the coming of William Penn and the city's original planners with their optimistic visions of civilizing the land.

Or the city's post-war boom that precipitated construction of the Cambridge Plaza Projects and planting of this tree to provide shade, a place to picnic, kiss, hide, climb. Perhaps a vision of perseverance and stability for people to draw strength from when all about them was changing. The tree certainly did persevere as evidenced by the bricks, glass and bottle caps that it consumed while reaching for the sky. Now as the current generation of city planners has a new vision for 11th and Girard, the tree has been transplanted to the Project Room and Keiko asks us to take part in Wisdom. Imagine the families that will live in the new apartments, imagine the tree in your backyard or neighborhood park that provides you a place of respite. Take a rest, sit in the swing Keiko built and swing from the roots to the sunshine while imagining all manner of roots and sunshine.

In looking at the tree one can't help ask why it was uprooted along with the inhabitants of the Cambridge Plaza Projects. We can see what has become of the tree but what has become of the people. A low-income housing project is to make room for a mixed income project so the people have to move on, why and to where. Such questions could lead to cynicism about gentrification and other urban pitfalls or they can lead to more positive thoughts of renewal and rebirth and for the moved out families, the city, and the new families moving in. Keiko asks us to imagine the positive possibilities because the negative ones help neither the displaced nor the thinker. They lead to frustration and feelings of impotence. Wisdom must lead us to positive actions or we have failed to take part in it. This tree was strong enough to live with bricks, glass and metal in its insides and we must be strong enough to imagine the positives and act to realize them despite the real and metaphorical bricks, glass and metal in our path.

So sit and swing from the roots to the sunshine.