Sorensen: Tree Dress

Tree Dress

Vibeke Sorensen
[ United States / Singapore ]

Tree Dress connects us to the Cave Punan, the last known mobile hunter-gatherers in Borneo, and probably all of Asia, whose ancestors have lived as forest stewards for thousands of years. Their way of life and the forests they depend on, are being threatened by logging and the expansion of palm oil plantations. Vibeke Sorensen is working with anthropologist J. Stephen Lansing and the Nature Conservancy to support their claim to their ancestral forests. 

Tree Dress brings the agency of the digital arts and technology field to efforts to save their way of life and the ecosystem that sustains them, and by extension our collective humanity and natural environment. The Cave Punan clothe themselves in the bark of forest trees. Inspired by their example, the “Tree Dress” is an Internet of Living Things (IOLT) work that employs panoramic digital photography to digitally unwrap the bark of a living Southeast Asian rainforest tree, as a poetic way to become one with it while also bringing attention to the Punan people and the fragile natural environment they depend upon. The panoramic images are digitally printed in high resolution onto sustainable silk which is then made into a dress with soft circuits and embedded systems so as to track, visualize and sonify the environmental conditions and CO2/O2 emission of the physical tree in real-time. Sensors are placed at the actual living tree in order to monitor it, and the data are sent wirelessly to a receiver and displayed on the soft circuits in the dress. Both the tree and the dress can be monitored on a web app in real-time.

This project is a reversal of the dematerialization of data, instead re-materializing it. More sensors are worn by the Cave Punan themselves.  Belts with GPS trackers, as unobtrusive wearable technologies, are worn by the Cave Punan as they travel between caves, rock shelters and forest camps. They are surrounded on three sides by logging and oil palm plantations. Visualization of the tracks from the sensors enable them to map their relationship to their ancestral forests. The Nature Conservancy is using these visualizations to support the efforts of the Cave Punan to preserve their homeland. The forests of Borneo contain the greatest terrestrial biodiversity on our planet. 

Primary Project Website:

  • Medium: Wearable Technologies, Custom Electronics and Software, Digital Photography, Computer Graphics and Music, Silk Fabric
  • Year Produced: 2020
  • Size: 2 m x 1.4 m
  • Video: 7:30 minutes

Vibeke Sorensen

Stanford University, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences

Vibeke Sorensen is an artist and professor working in digital multimedia, animation, interactive architectural installation, physical computing, and networked visual music. Her work in experimental new media has been published and exhibited worldwide, including in books, galleries, museums, conferences, performances, film festivals, on cable and broadcast media, and the internet. She has a long history of interdisciplinary and multicultural collaborations, including the development of new media technologies. 

From 2009 – 2021 she was Professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore, serving as Chair (head of school) of the School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) from 2009 – 2019. From 2016 – 2019 she was also Adjunct Professor of Design, Games and Interaction at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia. In 2007, she was Chair of the ACM SIGGRAPH Art Gallery, Global Eyes.  Sorensen was Professor and Founding Chair of the Division of Animation and Digital Arts (DADA), in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California (USC) from 1994-2004, and Founding Director of the Computer Animation Lab at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) from 1984-1994. 

Her research in new technologies has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the USC Annenberg Center for Communication, Intel Corporation and NTU Singapore. She is also a 2001 Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in Film/Video/Multimedia. Her current research engages bio and eco-art/design, and as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University it includes explorations of musical and calendrical polyrhythms from Bali to Kauai, and on the emergence of Jungian archetypes from dream networks.

Artist’s Webpage: