Artwork often accomplishes what scientific articles and reports cannot by connecting people to an issue. Sometimes the problem is too abstract, and people either lose interest or give up trying to understand. Other times, people feel powerless and disconnected: as individuals, people may ask themselves, what could be done to raise awareness, let alone initiate action? A passionate Facebook post may only go so far. Art creates the space for a collective moment of unity and understanding to enable awareness.
Artist Naziha Mestaoui created 1 Heart 1 Tree to bring awareness to global deforestation, choosing a digital medium dependent upon the participation of observers in a novel way that encourages connection to global forests.
1 Heart 1 Tree works by utilizing blockchain technology connecting a person’s interaction with their mobile phones to a projected artwork piece in a public space. You go to their website and purchase a virtual tree that will “grow” in the projection of the forest. You can choose to “grow” one or many trees, and they grow in sync with your heartbeat detected through your smartphone. The purchased tree, your name, the cadence of your heartbeat, and a message are stored with other purchased trees, and when 1 Heart 1 Tree has an exhibit, this stored information is transformed into the exhibition. Blockchain technology allows for information about each individual to be associated with the tree, the art medium, and then for that information to be strung together as a cohesive unit, becoming the raw material for an exhibit. Blockchain is an immutable, decentralized database that operates to store data in blocks chained together in chronological order. These interactions are permanently recorded and viewable to everyone, making blockchain a uniquely creative medium for this project.
When there is an exhibit, the raw data becomes art. As trees grow, the name of the person who purchased the tree and an optional personal message emerge alongside in the projection. In a way, people merge with the digital trees to create evolving rather than static art. Collective participation makes 1 Heart 1 Tree possible, and for just a short while, people around the world who have contributed virtual trees to the event are a part of a collective movement that spotlights how we are all capable of engaging on an issue that would typically be far removed from our day-to-day reality.
1 Heart 1 Tree isn’t solely a project to raise awareness: it creates change from collective participation. When you purchase a tree, the proceeds go to reforestation efforts around the world. You receive a digital photo of your tree as it is projected, followed by a Google Earth file that links you to the reforestation plantation where your real-life tree is growing. Updates on projects are also sent out every six months for three years, extending 1 Heart 1 Tree far beyond the exhibition. Reforestation projects are currently taking place in South America, West Africa, and Western Europe, and 100,000 trees have been planted from the collective action of 1.4 million people. In December 2015, Mestaoui began the largest endeavour of the project yet by projecting the exhibit onto the Eiffel Tower in Paris to mark the commencement of the United Nations Climate Conference COP21.
The crucial objective for Mestaoui was that everybody can connect to the reality of deforestation. It inspires collective awareness and action, creating a way for people to connect to a solution. The use of blockchain technology to bridge the gap between our digitalized society and humanity’s collective responsibility for environmental stewardship helps people realize their connection to every living tree.
1 Heart 1 Tree. (n.d.) “About”. https://www.1heart1tree.org/
Photo by Courtenay Crane