TOTAL Palm Tree

The Palm Tree is an icon of the exotic and the leisurely: it is a catalyst to think of the sand-coated beach, coconuts with straws, and a warm but pleasant breeze. It is the image of vacations and getting away from it all. The photograph of the palm tree is immediate, operating almost entirely on the level of implied or connoted meanings: we look straight past the tree with its dry bark and fronds, and into a dream. The dream is not of our own making: the shorthand between palm tree and the vacation is a shared cultural imaginary that reveals a desire to be elsewhere. In fact, it is shared, predominantly, by those in cooler climates – to desire or dream the palm tree is precisely to be somewhere other.

Corinne Vionnet’s Total Palm Tree presents us with a singular object, tall and close to the water. At first, we are transported to an elsewhere: the image is deep, almost transparent, it’s blue gradients and flash of greens a harmony, it’s light a warm highlight coming from the side (it could be late afternoon or early morning). The image is simple, uncomplicated, spare, without specificity: we cannot locate where, but we need not: it is simply a there which is sufficiently distant. To reach or identify its location would be to spoil its effect. Using a print-on-demand postcard printing service, which she sends to herself before scanning its image and repeating the process multiple times, Vionnet shows how the photograph transforms from an image of the exotic or natural, to become a shifting and telling material that reveals a real disconnected from spectacle.

A second, third and then fourth image arrive, the palm tree showing itself as a representation: a flickering, stuttering sky is no longer a continuous graded backdrop, but has patches of noise, speckled transitions between tones of blue. Some images more, and what was distant is now compressed: the sky and distant clouds are frontal, almost aligned with the palm tree, which has darkened as if the sun has begun to set. Our images maintain a sense of perfection, but what do they create: perhaps it is a separation between the world as we want it to be, and the world that we are making? There is a disconnect that Total Palm Tree starts to show to us: what is desired must be supported, and not only consumed.

As background tones continue to deepen, increasingly the tree seems scorched, set against a thickening blue. Whilst Vionnet was making the work, examining the repetition of our images of an exotic imaginary, California became covered in wildfires. Home to industries of cinema and the hardware and software of new digital media, California produces images like this, representations of elsewhere – whilst it outsources its technologies, to be manufactured and maintained also at a remove. The palm tree becomes a strange icon, enabled in its disseminated exoticism by places that are both revealed and concealed.

A momentum that has begun does not stop quickly. The palm tree becomes a dotted silhouette. As one image continues to supersede the last, the tree appears to wilt, and contract: it’s stem, for a moment a connection to the edge of the image, too disappears. What was an image has become a map, it’s trunk was in fact a bridge: now the tree is an island, contracting, slowly flooding, until it is submerged under blue.

by Duncan Wooldridge, 2021

Total Palm Tree, 2019-2021


TOTAL Palm Tree
Total Palm Tree, Corinne Vionnet
Self-published in 2021; 50 pages; size 270x190mm; Indigo printing; softcover with Relicoil binding.
120 copies