The Purification of Fagus sylvatica var pendula documents a June 2001 performance at the Weeping Beech Tree Park in Queens, NY. Though as the lush and enchanting black and white images show, the action is more ritual than performance. The Weeping Beech was brought back from Belgium by Samuel Bowne Parsons in 1847, who was travelling the world in search of rare and unusual plants. Though the original tree is now no more than a stump, seven progeny still grow in a circle, orbiting the site of the original tree, as it were. In fact, every Weeping Beech in America is descended from this single specimen. Lincoln’s project is an act of purifying and sanctifying the memory of this tree as well as honoring its myriad descendents.
In the images, we see a hooded figure, robed in Beech leaves, carrying a complex, almost alchemical-looking, glass instrument. The figure affixes to each living tree the name of each star in the Pleiades constellation, then connects each with tubing through which the trees are united in a distillation process. When this is complete, the figure removes the star names and brings them all together, along with their astronomical coordinates, at the mother stump. The final process is one of crystallization; a beechnut is encased in crystal as a metaphorical homage, accompanied by the quote, “To the poems Heaven affixes the pearl rosette of the Pleiades as a seal of immortality.”
In addition to the two essays, each image is captioned, walking the reader through the proceedings of the ritual in scientific detail. This, along with the rich and haunting images, provide a rare and absorbing document of an extraordinary ritual.