Aken Van Sam

Tree of 40 Fruit, since 2011


Sam Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit project combines research into the tradition of local fruit growing, the creative development of cultivation practices and artistic approaches using interventionist sitespecific as well as collaborative strategies in public space. Each tree realised by the artist in this project responds to the natural heritage of the site for which it is designed and where it is located and cultivated. It becomes a work of art as well as an agricultural and cultural monument, as it refers to the rich history of fruit growing represented by traditional fruit varieties, many of which are critically threatened by the industrialization of farm production. Sam Van Aken, who is a professor at the School of Art at Syracuse University in New York State, on whose campus he made the first Tree of 40 Fruit available in 2011, began his research in this area. Today, he has an old orchard of indigenous and often forgotten fruit varieties as a base for his ongoing experiments. In modelling each tree, the author draws on the natural richness of stone fruit varieties and their cultivars – peaches, almonds, apricots, nectarines, plums, cherries – which offer extraordinary variation in colour and flowering time, leaf pattern, size, shape, colour, texture and flavour. He takes advantage of the chromosomal similarity of these varieties, which allows him to concentrate forty different fruits in the crown of a single tree through grafting.

The Tree of 40 Fruit are created through a grafting process that, in Sam Van Aken’s artistic concept, is the culmination of a yearslong artistic and growing activity – from the winter harvesting of the scionwood, to the spring grafting, the subsequent healing and finally the further long-term care for the growth of each tree. In the process, a drawing is made with the exact positions of the grafted varieties. The result of this concentrated effort is trees that enrich the potential of a particular site, flowering throughout the spring in different shades of pink and white and producing a variety of tasty fruits from late summer to early autumn.

The Tree of 40 Fruit project, now spread in dozens of places from California to Maine, can be seen as a manifestation of expansive sculpture penetrating public space, codetermining its perception and opening up to its users a shared sense of the natural order of things and environmental responsibility. Through these living sculptures, Sam Van Aken emphasises issues related to biodiversity, the industrialization of agriculture, the disruption of the symbiosis between man and nature, respect for sustainable development processes, as well as community belonging and cooperation.

Sam Van Aken with contribution by Michal Koleček