Ten Trees 

There's nothing wooden about this multimedia exhibit

Some people knock on wood for good luck; others, like Sam Fleischner, hope to raise awareness.

The filmmaker and craftsman behind Ten Trees, the multimedia project now on display at Waterfront Park, reveals the process behind manufacturing plywood.

Everyone knows plywood comes from trees. Too often, though, we overlook the people, machines, and energy — an entire industry — that provide the wood for our homes, buildings, and furniture.

Ten Trees is an insightful idea that spurred another, broader idea. Fleischner made a documentary about trees. Then he built a theater, using the wood from the same trees, in which an audience can view the film. This kind of interactive, cozy experience — the wood’s sweet smell, the open ceiling, and the damp wooden cubes used for sitting — transports you to the forest.

The theater is like a slat-box, or a motionless freight car skeleton. Labyrinthine entry and exit ways lead the audience into a center room that has 21 wooden cubes used as seats. Three 4-by-8-foot panels are framed together as the screen. The audience is surrounded by tongue and groove assembled plywood, which provides a free yet claustrophobic environment. Audience members sat cross-legged on the cubes, two stragglers with drunken voices and black fingernails spread out on the grass, and Fleischner, propped on the structure’s spine, waited with his computer.

The documentary is an ode to wood and industry. The trees are transported to the lumberyard. The workers load the trees into machines. The machines cut the wood. The wood is loaded for shipment.

The story is straightforward and predictable. But the slow, brooding shots, the hiss of the machines, the mill workers and conveyer belts, are distilled into a concentrated choreography. Fleischner keeps the camera focused on each step of the wood’s production. Ten rounds of cutting, ten rounds of cleaning, ten rounds of loading equals monotony, but it’s not something you’ll soon forget. After watching four trees slip into a lathe, it’s not difficult for your thoughts to wander. I began to appreciate the factory workers’ alertness as monotony threatened their routine. The film works as the production process does: it is mundane, repetitive, and, when finished, satisfying.

Interest should also be paid to the film’s narrative. Fleishner allows the wood to tell its own tale. He offers inside glimpses into the mechanics of a lumberyard. And he does not proselytize. This installation champions industry and our planet’s natural resources.

Philosophies toward industry will continue to change, and the people and places that once represented a way of life will receive attention. The same sentiment drives Ten Trees. Fleischner, who recently moved to Charleston, spent a year convincing the lumberyard he was not trying to exploit their business. Once they believed him, it only took five full days of shooting to complete the film.

An optimistic addendum to this story is the factory provided enough wood for Fleischner to complete his theater. In turn, Fleischner allowed the company to use his film as an employee-training tool.

The best thing for a good idea is a place to put it to work. To his credit, Fleischner makes that happen.

Ten Trees • Piccolo Spoleto Visual Arts •  Free • On display through June 8. Film screenings Mon-Fri, 8 p.m. & 9 p.m. • City Gallery at Waterfront Park, 34 Prioleau St. • (843) 724-7305

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