The Last Tree is a monumental installation of 193 tree stump sculptures encased in metal pails and placed in a grid formation to transform the gallery space into a barren landscape. The number of stumps corresponds to that of the countries in the world, namely, those members of the United Nations. One large tree rises from the grid, as a symbol of the "last tree," which is in danger of its extinction from the earth. The devastated stumps are poised to witness the destruction of the "last tree" – a fate that humanity is bringing onto itself. Accompanying video projections and sounds amplify the urgency of the situation.
The project was originally inspired by the anthropologist Jared Diamond's lecture on his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), and his question, "What do you imagine the Easter Islander was thinking when he chopped down the last tree?" The artist Babs Reingold makes each of us - the viewer examine this question on a personal and visceral level. At what point do we recognize and act upon our self-destruction? Even though her motifs are trees, they stand-in for a collective humanity. To borrow Reingold's interpretation, The Last Tree ultimately is a "vision of a holocaust of sorts, humans destroying a vital part of themselves." Her intention is a cautionary requiem for humanity.
It is telling that Reingold's "trees" are created through laborious processes. Their shells are made of stained silk organza and stuffed with human hair, which the artist has collected from numerous beauty salons over the years. The diversity of hair from anonymous donors carries each person's DNA, which remains even after death. Hence, the use of hair in The Last Tree installation exemplifies a human condition that exists after an environment is destroyed. Upon closer examination, the tree stumps resemble small creatures with lives of their own. Their surfaces have been hand-sewn, with detailed embellishment to give each a unique character.
Over the last eighteen years Reingold has worked with these rather unusual materials in manifold ways to address the issues of beauty, poverty, and environment. Her best known works include a triptych, A Question of Beauty (2007), which chronicled the artist¡Çs own hair loss over 365 days, and a major installation, Hung Out In the Projects (2010), which reveals the "wreckage of humans trapped in a poverty." The latter, shown at the Morean Art Center, St. Petersburg, FL, helped earn a 2010 State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship. Her solo shows include galleries in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Savannah, Buffalo, and St Petersburg; museum shows in Jersey City, Newark, Buffalo, and Tampa. She has works in countless private collections, including Savannah College of Art and Design, as well as in the collections of Newark Museum and Museum of Fine Art, St Petersburg, FL.