Vivien Wise: Exploring Relationships and Trees Through Art

Vivien Wise: Exploring Relationships and Trees Through Art

It’s difficult for Vivien Wise to recall a time when she wasn’t using her skills with fibers to turn ideas into reality.

“I’ve been on this path for a long time. My mom and my grandmothers were quilters — I finished my first quilt when I was eight,” said Wise, a Fibers & Material Studies FMA student in Temple’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture. “When I was in high school, I visited an exhibition, a crocheted art piece called the Coral Reef Project. It was the first time that I realized that fibers could be art. I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life.”

After completing her undergraduate work in Fibers at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), she arrived at Temple University to pursue her graduate degree.

“My goal is to be an artist, to keep creating art in whatever way I can. With graduate studies, I knew this was a place where I could work on my art full-time and continually hone my craft,” Wise said. “Finding a school with the reputation that Tyler has that also has a Fibers department, that’s rare. At Temple, I’ve been able to grow as an artist in more ways than I ever could have imagined. Tyler provides the resources and community for that to happen.”

Wise’s latest project — The Tree Connection — is bringing her to Temple University Ambler for a decidedly visual, and arboreal, aspect to an installation exploring “how people are social, how they are romantic, and how that might relate to trees.” Anyone interested in helping create art, while also participating in a gameshow of Wise’s own devising should visit the campus at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 13.

“The project is informed by a lot of things that were happening in my life. It started as an exploration of how people connect with one another and how that might relate to trees; the social aspect wasn’t really something I had presented in my work before,” she said. “The Tree Connection revolves around three themes — living room, state park visitor’s center and TV game show. I see the visitor’s center as a gateway to nature while the living room and game show are mediated, constructed social spaces.”     

While exploring the concept of social practice and people being social with one another, Wise decided to add another question to ponder in her work — “How can we be social with plants?”

“I had this phenomenal experience with friends. One friend took us to this incredible tree in Lansdowne. He asked us to close our eyes while he explained how he discovered the tree,” she said. “He helped us create a connection to nature that was unlike anything I had experienced before; it was beautiful. It was an experience I wanted to try to recreate in my own way.”

From there, Wise began a detailed study of the trees in Philadelphia — many old trees that have incredible stories to tell in their own right.

“That started a project called 50 First Dates to Trees; I’ve completed 29 so far. When I say dates, that can mean many different things — a romantic partner, a platonic relationship, a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, a teammate, a coworker,” she said. “It’s about investigating interpersonal relationships. I take along with me 30 questions, partially inspired by the New York Times article ‘100 Questions to Ask to Fall in Love.’ It helps guide the conversation and get to the root of how we are social, how we are romantic and how that can be related to trees.”

Throughout the process of creating the installation, Wise said, new ideas have generated new avenues to explore. The questions she developed for her 50 first dates, for example, formed the basis of her game show, also called The Tree Connection (with your host Jackie Lumber), which will be filmed live in the Ambler Campus Learning Center Auditorium on Thursday, February 13, at 7 p.m. — just in time for Valentine’s Day.

“It’s based off of old TV games shows like Love Connection and Dating Game and the Newlywed Game and how those have become the ‘reality’ dating shows that we have today. Now in order to emulate the aesthetics of a game show, I actually had to go about creating a game show,” said Wise, who initially visited the Ambler Campus with her Fibers class while studying natural dyes. “It’s become the largest part of the project so far; I’ve created an event! I did an initial taping outside at Temple Ambler in October. What we’re doing in February will actually be part of the installation.”

According to Wise, the Tree Connection game show on February 13 will include “typical game show challenges that range from educational to sexy,” quizzes on facts about trees and activities that couples would complete together. Couples, she emphasized, can be any pairing of two people working as a team. The teams selected from the audience will compete for a “luxury mystery date in the woods,” she said.

“This is meant to be fun and funny while also being informative and thought-provoking. At a very basic level, I hope people increase their desire to know more about trees while also thinking about how we form relationships as people,” she said. “Hopefully it opens them up to new perspectives and new experiences. A date doesn’t have to be romantic. There are simple ways to connect with nature.”  

Wise’s installation will be the primary feature in her thesis show on Friday, February 28, in Temple Contemporary at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Main Campus. The installation will also be showcased at the University City Arts League beginning Friday, March 27.

“This is a project that I don’t really see as ever truly being finished. I want to continue adding to it and exploring the themes that it represents,” she said. “I also still need to finish my 50 first dates!”

The Tree Connection taping is free and open to the public. The time of the event has been designed to take advantage of the Intercampus Bus between Main Campus and Temple University Ambler. Contact vwise@temple.edu if you are interested in carpooling to the event. Visit www.vivienwise.com/treeconnection for additional information.