More than one hundred local artists answered Bedford Gallery’s call for the Big Tree Project (opening this Sunday from 3-5 p.m.). Not all of them were personally acquainted with the tree in question — a huge oak presiding over Walnut Creek’s Shadelands Arts Center that had to be cut down for safety reasons earlier this year. But they were all intrigued at the idea of transforming its remains into art, and happily hauled away sections of wood for their various projects. What’s a proper memorial for a tree? Emeryville’s Mari Andrews decided to treat her eight-foot-long limb as if it had died in the forest, where old plant matter is naturally recycled into nourishment for new life. She carved a trough along the length of the branch, filled it with soil, and planted it with moss. The tannic acid in the wood, she says, is even supposed to help the moss grow. Its title, Host, sounds like something out of a horror movie, but the work itself is so completely organic-looking that you have to look twice before realizing how Andrews altered it.
There’s no such trouble with Lauren Davies’ construction, Human/Nature, which she says was inspired by a book on kitsch: “It describes miniaturizing, decorating, and parlor-room preservation as means to deal with nature and death dating back to the Victorian era.” Using a few small branches and wood chunks, she built an intensely surreal tabletop landscape coated with cobalt-blue flocking, silver leaf, and glass crystals. A tombstone masquerading as a piece of furniture, it revels in its garishness and nonfunctionality.
Zen Buddhism was the taking-off point for San Francisco artist Jeff King. He had made several recent sculptures by thinly slicing a log and reassembling it in a slightly altered form, and hoped to do something similar with his chunk of the Big Tree, but “by the time I was able to get to the site to pick up material,” he recalls, “much of the wood had already been taken.” He came away with a small, curved section of branch that he sliced up and rearranged into a huge circle. King likens the piece to an aura, or an enso — a drawing made by Zen monks to describe a perfect meditative state — and an appropriate memorial for something that was so ancient and awe-inspiring in its own way. The exhibition runs through August 31 at 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek. $3 general, $2 youth, children 12 and under free. Free Tuesdays. 925-295-1417. www.bedfordgallery.org — Lindsey Westbrook
Too much to look at
Petaluma’s Barry Singer Gallery believes in the shotgun approach to photo shows — its wide-ranging current exhibitions include everything from 1930s prints of Yosemite by Ansel Adams to Bettie Page pinups. Beginning this Saturday, the gallery is also featuring the work of Jack Welpott, who will be on hand for a reception (5-7 p.m.). But Singer also has photos by August Sander, W. Eugene Smith, Brigitte Carnochan, and Walker Evans. Did they miss anyone? 7 Western Ave., Petaluma. www.singergallery.com — Kelly Vance
What are you doing for lunch Wednesday? KFC in the break room, with the screen-print of a tropical island on one wall and a battalion of vending machines on the other? Well, if you live in central Contra Costa County, we respectfully request you get a freakin’ life. Go outside! Get some fresh air! Maybe even enjoy a little entertainment at the weekly Music at Noon series. Through August, noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, you can catch live bands for free at Todos Santos Plaza (Willow Pass Rd. and Grant St., Concord). This week: Jack West and Curvature’s progressive, acoustic jazz. Future weeks will feature Latin, steel pan, ska, Appalachian old-time, and more. www.concordfirst.org or 925-671-3464 — Stefanie Kalem
Rock Out Below!
Coming soon to a church basement near you: A band who’s just gotten back from touring England, and recently released a Mariah Carey-themed split 7″ with Sonic fucking Youth. Not that you need more reasons to go see the no-wave terroristas of Erase Errata , but Tussle and Chum Frink also perform. The show’s at the Ramp, located at 2236 Parker St. in the basement of the Berkeley Unitarian Universalist Church. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., cover is $6. All ages. — Stefanie Kalem