Historical Records
Buildings and Contents – contemporary art in a museum context

An exploration of the visual and conceptual similarities between tree ring records and old gramophone records Part of ‘Bulidings and Contents – contemporary art in a museum context’ – a group show in a historic Tudor house. Twelve framed intaglio prints with customised labels, record player, slices of oak tree.
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Dendrochronology or tree ring dating, is the technique by which ancient timbers can be dated using the principle that the thickness of the annual growth ring of trees varies according to climatic conditions. Over a period of many years, all the trees in a given area will have similar patterns of growth, so that a piece of timber can be compared with one of known date in order to ascertain its age.

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The technique was used on timbers in the Bishops House to try to confirm its age. The science is fraught with difficulties, for example the fact that a certain period of history is recorded in the tree ring record of a building timber gives little indication of its actual age, as particularly with large planks, many, perhaps hundreds, of years worth of rings may have been removed in the building process. The timbers may also have been salvaged from an earlier structure, so dendrochronology can only ever be one of several aids to dating a building. Not all trees produce growth rings which vary with climate and dendrochronolgists talk of trees being sensitive or complacent according to whether they are affected by climate. The oak, from which the Bishops House timbers are made is a sensitive tree. The work draws on the historical record imprinted in the tree as it grows, and the visual resemblance of the tree rings to the grooves on a gramophone record. A twelve inch oak tree would record perhaps 100 years of climatic variation, while a twelve inch 78rpm record might record represent 10 minutes in real time. There is nonetheless, more than merely a visual similarity between the two. Both require particular forms of interrogation or examination in order for them to divulge their encoded information, neither can be read without specific apparatus or knowledge.
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