After last summer’s Swath o’ Destruction Storm Week, most of the metro area railed against the trees. They’d collapsed willy-nilly, felling power lines and holing roofs, crushing cars and stilling air-conditioners. St. Louis echoed to the grind of chainsaws for weeks afterward, becoming an arboreal abattoir as limbs and boles were hacked up and carted away, and life returned to normal. But in your heat-rage and sweat-angst, did you not feel a little remorse for the trees, as well? Sure, everything in the fridge was ruined -- but that jar of relish was easily replaced, while the mighty oak that stood in front of the house was gone forever. And was life really back to normal? You paused every time you passed that yawning hole in the sidewalk, marveling at how different the street looked with just one tree gone. Something had been lost, and it wasn’t just the oak. The void was more than a physical absence -- it was a loss both psychic and emotional.

Artist Katie Holten strikes that chord of melancholy first sounded by your missing tree, summoning the same wonder and loss in her show Katie Holten: Paths of Desire. Using reclaimed materials as her media, Holten has constructed a massive tree in the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org) to draw attention to both the fragility of ecology and of humanity’s place in the world. The grandeur and might of nature sprouts unnaturally from a sterile floor, and yet the form is so familiar and grand that the scene seems almost, but not quite, right. Holten’s trees are the inverse of that tree-shape void on your street -- the proper shape, but lacking the life of the original. Still, there’s something vital flowing through the limbs and branches; this is not dead wood, but a totem imbued with living purpose. It’s a second chance for both the ecological and the human parts of the equation.

Paths of Desire opens with a free reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 18. The show remains up through Sunday, August 5, and the gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: May 18. Continues through Aug. 5

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