Aspen trees in the center of Breckenridge are being turned a brilliant ultramarine blue as part of an exhibit by the Egyptian-born, Australian artistKonstantin Dimopoulos. Volunteers will color approximately 125 trees by using an environmentally-safe blue pigment now through Sunday, Aug. 16.
Since the exhibit was first unveiled in 2003, the surreal blue trees have stopped viewers in their tracks in a dozen cities around the world, from London and Vancouver to Seattle, Atlanta, Houston and Sacramento. This will be the work’s Colorado premiere.
“The message ‘The Blue Trees’ sends out is very clear and succinct,” said Dimopoulos, whose eco-focused piece is intended to create an opportunity for education and dialogue about the rapid global deforestation that threatens the existence of our trees and, thus, ourselves.
“We as a planet are in great danger,” he said. “We don’t have time to be subtle regarding deforestation and the global warming aspects that it creates. We don’t have 300 more years to act.”
He describes his piece as both real and surreal, but definitely not subtle.
“‘The Blue Trees’ project takes a normal landscape with which you are familiar and changes it for a brief period of time so that it becomes something unfamiliar, perhaps even strange,” he said. “It stands out. It gets people to respond.”
The exhibit comes to town as a part of theBreckenridge International Festival of Arts, an inaugural 10-day event taking place Friday, Aug. 14, through Sunday, Aug. 23, that mixes a range of disciplines from visual and performing arts and features work by local, national and international artists. Modeled after similar festivals in Europe and Australia, it is being put on by Breckenridge Creative Arts, or BreckCreate, a nonprofit organization funded by the town of Breckenridge to champion all things art while managing numerous public arts facilities.
“‘The Blue Trees’ was the first project we chose for the festival,” said Robb Woulfe, who came on board as CEO and president of BreckCreate last year, bringing a decade of experience in festival management. “We knew we were going to launch this festival last fall, but we didn’t quite know what it would look like. As soon as we discovered Konstantin, we dug into it. Everyone got excited about the idea, which is framed in an accessible, incredibly beautiful project. It just felt tailor-made for Breckenridge. Once we got that piece in, it helped shaped the rest of the festival.”
Blue trees in Tiger Dredge parking lot will seem to flow through Blue River Plaza and up Washington Avenue to the Arts District, creating what Woulfe called “a sort of way-finding for the festival.” The water-based, biodegradable pigment is expected to wash off the trees in four weeks, though in less rainy regions, it has lasted as long as nine months.
“We will get to see as the colorant fades over time,” said Jenn Cram, director of public programs and engagement for BreckCreate. “You will see blue trees for the festival, and then in fall, when the leaves change, and possibly into winter. It’s a true environmental installation in that sense because it is going to change over time and you will get to see it evolve.”
DOESN’T HURT THE TREES
Here in the High Country, we love our trees, so one of the sticking points has been whether or not the blue pigment will pose any risk to their health. Organizers took pains to study and address the concern in advance, consulting an arborist, cities that hosted past installations and community stakeholders. Cram even conducted her own experiments with the pigment. She walked the route, inspecting the health of all the trees slated to be painted. In the end, organizers and town officials were convinced that the installation would not harm the town’s trees.
Longtime local and land conservation professional Leigh Girvin is still not fully convinced, but she is supporting the project nonetheless, including volunteering to color trees.
“It’s easy to complain about something, but harder to be part of the solution. If it harms the trees, I blame myself,” she said, adding that, ultimately, she sees the benefit in the message the work conveys. “He’s really sending a message about why we need to value trees. To me, that’s as important as worrying about how this blue pigment might hurt them.”
“The scary thing is that we are all experiencing deforestation daily,” Dimopoulos said. “It’s that it’s an invisible killer. It happens thousands of miles away in the Amazon forests or the boreal forests of North America or Asia. We are experiencing deforestation every day in climate change, loss of species, water cycle, soil erosion and life quality. Forests are complex ecosystems that affect almost every species on the planet. When they are degraded, it can set off a devastating chain of events both locally and around the world.”
Dimopoulos will engage visitors about the importance of trees to the ecosystem during his visit to Breckenridge through Sunday, Aug. 16. There will be an artist talk Thursday, Aug. 13, at Old Masonic Hall, and the exhibit will be accompanied by a public-education campaign including signage, post cards, a mobile app and volunteers sporting buttons inviting guests to “Ask me why the trees are blue.”
“Our entire town council really feels this is an important exhibition,” said Councilman Gary Gallagher. “This town is very concerned about environmental issues. We tackled issues of water a couple years ago, re-pricing water to encourage conservation. We also understand the critical importance of our forest.”
Gallagher, too, has volunteered to color trees.
“People will go: ‘Gee, what’s this about?’ It’s really to raise people’s awareness,” he said. “We are delighted to be hosting it. Hopefully, a lot of good conversations will come out of it.”
“I think it’s awesome for the town to tie itself to sustainability,” said Jennifer McAtamney, who co-chairs the local organizing committee for the Breckenridge stage of the USA Pro Challenge, which passes through town during the second half of the festival. McAtamney and her daughter have volunteered to color trees. “I love the idea that ‘The Blue Trees’ speaks about deforestation. We will have lots of people in town — journalists and photographers from around the world. It will be a great way to get attention to the issue.”
Colorado is one of the most beautiful regions of the world, Dimopoulos said, and the incredible landscape speaks volumes of how beautiful and yet how fragile a region can be.
“The reality is that there are deserts now existing which once looked exactly like Breckenridge. I grew up in one,” he said. “‘The Blue Trees’ is a plea that Breckenridge and beautiful places similar to it remain for the next millennium.”
“You can dig in as deep as you want to,” Woulfe said of the piece. “You can understand the artist’s vision and how environmental issues impact the community. Or you can be there with your grandkids and say, ‘Why are the trees blue? Breckenridge is so crazy.’”
Presented by Breckenridge Creative Arts, the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts is a celebration of adventure, play and creativity that runs Friday, Aug. 14, through Sunday, Aug. 23. Find more information and a full schedule at breckcreate.org/bifa, or search “BIFA” atwww.summitdaily.com.