Robert Smithson, Floating Island (Whitney Museum, 1970)
In Tree Boat, Myeongbeom Kim performs a meditative action by planting a tree on a small boat and taking it on a journey along a river. In Dorado, the route starts at La Plata River, which runs from the South of the island and flows into the North Atlantic Sea. But compared with previous renditions of the project, Tree Boat in Dorado reflects the luxuriant and abundant foliage of Puerto Rico. Choosing native plants, including a Ficus longifolia and a Tabebuia rosea, the project transformed from a single tree to a lavish garden. The choice of boat also significantly changed the meaning of the project. For the performance, the artist chose a local yola, a small boat commonly employed by people from adjacent islands, particularly the Dominican Republic and Cuba, to crossover illegally to Puerto Rico. The problematics of immigration, borders and territorial ownership, currently a major topic of conversation and debate on an international scale, then becomes an important factor to consider when interpreting the work. For Kim, the tree comes to represent the individual, who affected by unforeseeable circumstances, decides to leave his country ‘in search of the miraculous.’ The tree, an image that evokes permanence and stability, then initiates a dialectical relationship with its environment conditioned by immediate circumstances and probabilities.
Returning to Smithson’s idea of the ‘non-site,’ Kim’s project elicits a sense of place but also of displacement. If our identities are forged by difference, time and movement, like our notion of space, then it is an ever evolving dialectic. Kim’s poetic and meditative gesture expands upon this idea; a personal journey that reveals the plural and engaging nature of our environment.