Karma Avedon sent me an invitation to visit her full region installation, One Tree Hill which is – although still in part a work-in-progress – now open for visitors. “[It’s] my first ever work for the LEA and I am very excited both to have had my idea accepted and to have managed to actually bring it to fruition,” she told me prior to Caitlyn and I paying a visit.
The installation is a virtual reflection of U2’s seminal album The Joshua Tree, which celebrated the 30th anniversary of its release in March 2017. The album grew from a mix of influences – social, political, spiritual, and cultural. It was released in a period of history which we see echoed somewhat today, with economics dominating the politics of the UK (U2’s home) and America; global small-scale conflicts; the changing face of traditional industries – notably coal mining; etc.
All of this, including the influences behind many of the songs contained within the album are reflected within One Tree Hill. Some of these references are obvious, others are more subtle or layered. Also to be found are reflections on the band’s contrasting views between “real America” and “mythological America”, and reminders that the UK and the USA have much in common.
A journey begins Where the Streets Have No Name, a flat desert-like environment cut by broad, nameless roads, stretching away to the horizon, a great mesa rising to one side. Much of this contains images of the American mythos: great flat desert plains, broad, ruler-straight roads arrowing to the horizon, billboards (which carry some of the more overt political references for both the 1980s and today), and a reminder of the former importance of coal in building both the UK and USA.
Where one travels through this landscape is a matter of choice. Follow the single south pointing road, and you’ll pass a row of bonnet-buried Cadillacs – a reference to Cadillac Ranch, and emblematic of the American mythos. Close by, on the other side of the road visitors can reflect on being With Or Without You; the internal struggle of the song (to be a husband at home or a rock star on tour) powerfully represented by the statue of a couple caught in the tension of a tango – and a dance orb allows visitors to engage in a dance as well.
Staying on the lowland area, where Joshua trees via with umbrella thorns to offer some greenery, and travelling south, one will eventually come to a large gallery space (still under construction) and references to Bono’s time in South America. The latter represents both Bullet the Blue Sky and Mothers of the Disappeared in a rain-soaked corner. The latter of these also perhaps contains modern-day references: the three distressed mothers all being clad in burqa-like garments, whilst the boards set on the chain link fence appear to be in reference to more recent conflicts.
Atop the mesa and reached via an ascending set of wooden platforms, sits a literal representation of Red Hill Mining Town literally sits, offering another layered interpretation of the period. The song itself was written around the unfolding political upheavals impacting Britain’s coaling communities in the mid-1980s, and in particular the 1984 Miner’s Strike; however, the town is very clearly American in setting. Thus, a parallel is drawn between the decline in the importance of domestic coal witnessed in both the United States and the UK – for largely the same economic reasons – during the 1980s. A further layer is perhaps added as well, in that the embodying Red Hill Mining Town as a run-down American township might be seen as a metaphor for the band’s own conflicted views of the “real” (declining traditional industries), and “mythological” (land of golden opportunities) United States.
Within this town are further references to both The Joshua Tree with I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, featured appropriately enough within a church; and to U2’s own history in the form of the STS Studios, where many of the group’s songs (including some from The Joshua Tree, but notably the likes of Rattle and Hum) originated / were recorded. Standing over all of this, and reach by another set of wooden steps, is One Tree Hill, written in reflection of a 1984 visit to Maungakiekie, a volcanic peak in New Zealand, and one of the most spiritually significant to Māori people. As with it’s namesake, Karma’s One Tree Hill is a place of reflection and peace.
One Tree Hill is a fascinating, layered installation, one which should be explored carefully, allowing for reflections on U2’s album and music and the imagery presented within the build. Do be sure to have ambient sounds active when visiting and – if you’re a U2 fan, try the music stream as well. I’ve also not referenced all the tracks on the album – others are to be found, but I’ll leave you to find them (hint: look indoors for at least one), as that’ll leave you some mystery as well 🙂 .