Walking on a tree-lined urban streetscape, I experienced discontinuity and repetitiveness of identical elements in the controlled city environment. These urban trees, each confined within its brick frame, exist as individual entities—isolated from one another in contrast with their natural, mutual interdependence. This isolation leads to feelings of sensory overload, emotional detachment, and fragmented social bonds reflecting a form of atomistic individualism that shapes how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.
This perspective shifted upon further examination of these overlooked urban trees. Brick frames cracked by tree root growth are the material evidence of nature’s persistence in the face of urbanization. Like these urban trees, I believe humans too share the desire to break free from their constraints.
Frame III, a collaborative artwork with Owen Yixiao Wang (M.ArchI 2025), parallels the urban tree to the metropolitan individuality in Georg Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” The work projects the feelings of an urban tree onto a human body, and vice versa. The paper bricks are cast from an urban tree frame with found paper waste (paper bags, cardboard, packaging paper, prints) in New Haven. The installation responds dynamically to the performer’s movements through four sensors positioned underneath, translating these gestures into synthetic sounds that resonate with the intricacies of the urban environment.
The performance stages—seeking, unfolding, extending, and struggling—mirror a tree’s growth, with the body imitating an urban tree’s response to external forces. As the movements intensify, the crescendoing sounds blend paper rustling with urban ambiance, creating a dynamic equilibrium between the tree and the human body. In this moment, Frame III encapsulates the reciprocity between urban trees and humans, where urban trees’ presence and condition profoundly influence the perceptions and reflections of those navigating the urban landscape. Conversely, the actions and emotions of city dwellers reciprocate, shaping the urban ecosystem and the trees within it.
This reciprocal interaction offers a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between nature and urbanization. Frame III prompts contemplation about the coexistence of humans and nature within the city’s confines, sparking introspection into how our actions affect the natural world and, conversely, how nature’s resilience and presence shape our urban experiences.
Frame III, 2022. 0.047’’ music wire, foam board, soil, cast handmade paper in found paper materials, interactive sound generated in Pure Data and controlled by Arduino.
Frame III, 2022. single channel video, 2:00 min. https://www.youtube.com/watchv=KKdWcw39yj4&ab_channel=ValZhao