For any artist, seeing a project expand and develop to reach new heights is one of the pinnacles of creative fulfillment. Tiffany Shlain has experienced this sort of artist nirvana with her DENDROFEMONLOGY: A Feminist History Tree Ring project. Originally on view within Shlain’s solo exhibition Human Nature at SHACK15 in San Francisco, DENDROFEMONLOGY is on the move, recently making the cross-country voyage to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
As part of a four-day event held from November 1 through November 4, Shlain’s feminist tree ring sculpture sat on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The activation was held just before election day, which saw 93,000 races with massive implications for women’s rights, trans rights, and reproductive rights.
After the event, I reached out to Shlain for a debrief, eager to hear about her experience and what comes next.
What was the main highlight for you during the four-day event?
The main highlight was that first day, watching the sculpture’s installation on the National Mall and then, through the speakers, experiencing their ideas on the sculpture coming to life.
Seeing DENDROFEMONLOGY: A Feminist History Tree Ring placed in between the patriarchal male structures of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial was even more powerful than I’d envisioned. I had created an artist rendering of what it would look like almost a year ago. I carried that image everywhere— in my bag, above my desk, and to every meeting with our presenters, the National Women’s History Museum and Women Connect4Good.
When I first walked onto the National Mall on November 1, what I saw was so much stronger than the visual I had created. The tree ring was larger in proportion, and the sky was crystal clear and blue, not cloudy. Everything about it was more vibrant than I’d pictured.
Then, to see the public drawn to the monument, reading it, absorbing this history often not seen, and having discussions in front of it was an incredible feeling. It felt like a much-needed feminist intervention. For the opening day, I invited women whom I had recognized on the sculpture and other feminist leaders to speak. Speakers included labor activist Dolores Huerta, MeToo founder Tarana Burke, the highest elected trans official, Senator Sarah McBride, author and chef Padma Lakshmi, and even the original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter.
[The event] felt like a much-needed feminist intervention.Tiffany Shlain
They brought the words on the timeline to life by speaking about the line that meant the most to them and sharing what they wanted to see burned on there next.
One of the things you see in the timeline is how progress doesn’t always move in one direction. You have to keep pushing for the direction you want it to head. We had two events during the installation that spoke to this effort. One was the convening of the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition with over 50 feminist organizations to get the ERA published. The second was an Abortion is a Human Right Parade led by artist Michele Pred. These activations showed the power of art to mobilize people into action.
What’s next for you and this project?
DC was stop one on this moveable monument’s journey. The next stop will be New York in 2024. There are so many races in the upcoming election year that will affect women’s rights, trans rights, and reproductive freedom. DENDROFEMONOLOGY will again bring together art and action. It will coincide with my solo exhibition of the Human Nature show at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in Chelsea starting June 20, 2024. There are eight tree rings in the exhibition, all exploring different issues like climate, philosophy, and feminism. DENDROFEMONLOGY is the centerpiece.
There’s a film in the works related to this project. Can you shed some light on that?
I work in different mediums, and film is one of them. I view art as an invitation to a new perspective or to go deeper into an idea or issue. On the timeline, I distilled 50,000 years of feminist history into 30 lines, starting with the line “goddesses being worshiped” in most ancient civilizations. The timeline goes back and forth, documenting the power struggle we are still experiencing today. Right before DC, I had burned “Today:” as the final line, inviting people to think about what we want next on the timeline and that what we do today will affect what comes next.
We interviewed people on the National Mall and asked people online to answer the following questions: What’s your favorite line on the timeline and why? What surprised you? (There were lines that surprised me doing the research.) What do you want to see burned on the timeline next? We are also asking people online to submit video answers to those same questions.