Tom Otterness, Tree of Knowledge
A masterful sculptor whose seemingly whimsical works are rich with wry social commentary, Tom Otterness is one of the most prolific public artists in the world. His cheeky Tree of Knowledge, a commanding 9-foot-tall bronze sculpture, combines judicial and biblical symbolism with cartoonish characters to tell a profoundly consequential story.
In this piece, we encounter four main protagonists: a serpent slithering up the tree trunk; a possum hanging upside down as he reads a law book; a beaver gnawing through the tree’s base; and perched at the top of it all, a blind-folded bird dangling the scales of justice. The suited possum and beaver represent lawyers–one oblivious to truth in his misguided pursuit of knowledge, the other intent on advancing, at all costs, his self-serving interests. The sightless owl is our clueless judge, wise in appearance only. In fact, he is utterly unaware that the snake of deception is poised to devour him or that he holds lives in the balance of his scales.
It is no coincidence that Otterness portrays a dead tree with stumpy branches barren of leaves–yet another commentary in this satiric critique of our judicial system, as cutting as the beaver’s teeth.