Published November 30, 2018
It’s an endeavor that sounds like something out of a dream: Using an age-old method called grafting, artist Sam Van Aken is growing whimsical single trees that will one day bear 40 varieties of pitted fruit apiece, ranging from almonds and cherries to peaches, plums and nectarines.
Van Aken describes his process as “part Dr. Seuss, part Frankenstein and just about everything fantastic.”
Western New Yorkers will have the chance to hear from Van Aken at Buffalo’s next Science & Art Cabaret, which will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Hallwalls Cinema at 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo. Van Aken will be the lone presenter of the night, and his talk will be free and open to the public.
Van Aken, an associate professor in the Syracuse University School of Art, is a 2018-19 artist-in-residence with UB’s Creative Arts Initiative through Coalesce: The Center for Biological Arts in the UB Community of Excellence in Genome, Environment and Microbiome.
To create hybridized trees, Van Aken uses an age-old method to graft buds of different fruit trees onto the branches of a single large tree. He focuses on stone fruits (those with pits), and his work helps to preserve heirloom varieties that may not be commercially available. His project, with trees planted in several U.S. cities, is titled, “Tree of 40 Fruit.”
The Buffalo Science & Art Cabaret is marking its 10th season this year. The event series was established in fall of 2009 with the goal of digging into compelling themes from diverse perspectives.
Founders include John Massier, visual arts curator at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center; Will Kinney, UB professor of physics; Gary Nickard, UB clinical associate professor of art; and Douglas Borzynski, who was then at the Buffalo Museum of Science.
Featuring a single speaker is a rarity for the cabaret. More typically, the event features several entertaining, intellectually provocative presentations by artists, scientists and others on the same night on a common topic. The final cabaret of the 2017-18 season, for instance, included an author, an artist, a historian, an electronic musician and a former pastor discussing “Death.”
Van Aken’s talk is nonetheless fitting, as “Tree of 40 Fruit” melds several fields and occupations, fusing science and horticulture with art and preservation. This amalgamation of themes speaks to the cabaret’s underlying premise: that intellectual pursuits that appear distinct actually cross paths far more often than presumed and share spheres of interest and meaning.