The Whispering

The Whispering is a portrait of living systems out of balance - an immersive environment evoking sensations specific to a vast Quaking Aspen forest in Utah through haptic sound, light and sculptural elements. The wooded area spanning 106 acres inspiring this installation is actually a single expansive tree known as “The Whispering Giant,” “The Trembling Giant,” or simply “Pando.” Although it is considered to be one of the most ancient organisms on the planet and its root system is an estimated 80,000-100,000 years old, new tree clones haven’t been growing from it for the last 30-40 years. The killing of wolves and bears by neighboring ranchers has lead to the unchecked activities of grazing animals surrounding Pando. Compounded with climate change induced seasonal extremes, these unfavorable conditions result in fatal damage to new growth produced by this giant.

The soundscape heard throughout the installation imagines healthy trees - their leaves moving in the wind, flowing sap and nutrients - and the still silence created in the death of the organism to create a visceral experience over time of a flourishing or perishing landscape. Scientific data comparing healthier parts of Pando versus those which have suffered due to over-populations of deer and grazing cattle point to human interference as the main reason it cannot regenerate. Researchers have also been studying how adjustments in human behavior could help protect this Quaking Aspen, and by extension other forested areas subjected to similar conditions, but it takes a concerted effort. Our hope is to echo these scientists’ message that more mindful attitudes and actions regarding the land we live in does result in healthy change to heal damage that’s been done.

Materials: Harvested moss, tree trunks, and branches; lighting gels, electronic components

Collaborative installation by The Witches sound art collective
(Giuliana Funkhouser, Eliza Phelan-Harder, Kate Rannells)

© 2021 Giuliana Funkhouser