The Little Chapel of Silence is a small room accessible 24/7 on the USC Campus. It is under the purview of the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life, but cannot be reserved for private use by students or organizations. It holds six pews facing a wood-carved mural of a tree, under which are a public logbook and card box for visitors to write prayers or messages in.
The Office of Religious & Spiritual Life describes these thus:
“Based on traditions of trysting trees and stones from the British Isles, the brass plaque beneath the mural invites members of the USC community to make professions, or ‘trysts’, of love and commitment:
"Under the Trojan Trysting Tree
Come sit with me for a spell;
Beneath its branches hold my hand
And the truth of my heart I’ll tell.”
'To tryst' is not and has never been synonymous with 'to profess'; it means to meet in secret, (especially as between lovers,) and trysting trees traditionally in the UK and USA were rendezvous for criminals or paramours. Robin Hood famously had a trysting tree for both purposes, meeting his Merry Men and Maid Marian.
The mural did not reside in the Little Chapel until recently, and was originally carved after a real 'trysting tree' on campus was cut down. The claiming of this symbol by the Office of Religious Life, and attempted transformation into a spiritual source, is a sterilization of its historical meaning.
However, chapel visitors, presumably unknowingly, seem to tap into the folklore of the tree. Reading through the prayers made beneath it, one finds an inordinate number on the subjects of sex, forbidden relationships (maybe without the approval of parents), and unrequited love. A two-page entry in the log book stuck out to me on one visit; it was thanking God for helping the writer improve as a pick-up artist.
I made this work to confront these conflicts of 'clean' spirituality and folkloric vulgarity, holding an unauthorized gathering in the Little Chapel to watch a silent four-minute loop of projection mapping bring the trysting tree mural to life with animation and video of 'trysting' couples.
Tools Used: Adobe After Effects, TouchDesigner, AXAA Mini Projector
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