John-Michael Korpal
What is a Tree?
Warren Park
2045 W Pratt Blvd, Chicago IL

What is a Tree? launched on Arbor Day 2023, and will have its next activation on Arbor Day 2024. Join us again for A Year in the Life of a Tree on Friday, April 26. In the coming seasons, we encourage you to experience this project on your own by finding a Mother Tree in the northeast corner of Warren Park, and proceeding along the walking path clockwise (to the left) at the first branch. What is a Tree? prompts you to observe, interact, personify, and engage with the arboreal inhabitants of the park. Below is a growing body of resources to help relate to and learn about trees.

We acknowledge that the Chicago we know sits on the unceded ancestral lands of the Council of Three Fires: Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi as well as over a dozen tribes including the Miami Nation, Ho-Chunk Nation, Menominee Tribe, Sac and Fox Nation that called this land home. We explore this land with respect of the past, present, and future, for reparations for the harm that was allowed to occur.

The image above includes leaves and fruit from Warren Park. Do you know what trees they belong to? Below is a birch catkin on one of the trees along our path.

Tree . . . as a Verb
(for a group)

Trees are often thought to be Tall, Strong and Silent appearing to be dormant and inactive part of year. To be a Tree is to be in constant motion. Creating and storing food and energy for survival and growth. While contributing to the well-being of surrounding trees and organisms.

I invite you to Be a Tree:

Individuals hold arms up to show muscles and stand in the center facing outward. Chant: “I Support, I Support” (repeat)

A single individual sits at the base of the heartwood. This person represents the deep taproot that most trees have. Make slurping noises.

Lateral Root
Individuals lie on their back in the circle with feet facing inward towards the Heartwood. Make slurping noises.

Sapwood / Xylem
Individuals join hands and encircle between the lateral roots facing the Heartwood. Individuals should pretend they are drawing up water from the roots raising joined hand above their heads and then lowering. Chant “Whoosh, Whoosh” (repeat)

Individuals join hands around the Sapwood. Chant: “We Make New Cells, We Make New Cells” (repeat)

Individuals join hands around Cambium Individuals will raise arms and lower. Chant: “Food to The Tree, Food to The Tree” (repeat)

Outer Bark
Individuals form a circle around entire tree facing outward holding hands. Individuals should growl and pose like football players to defend the tree. (repeat)

Here is an example of this formation, from Arbor Day 2023:

The more of you, the better 🌳 

You might notice that our friends in the photo above who are Being a Tree all have little brown bags. For our first What is a Tree? event on Arbor Day 2023, these little packages where gifted to our group of navigators to help explore the park. Here are some things that were included that you can assemble as-needed when you visit the trees of Warren Park (or anywhere):

    1) String to measure and compare the different sizes of tree trunks;

    2) Tree . . . as a Verb, in case some friends show up to join you;

    3) Bag of raw peanuts for the “Squirrel Tree” and other squirrels you may encounter on your journey; 
    4) Pencil;

    5) Annotated map – or a blank one to fill in yourself; 

    6) Journal to capture thoughs, ideas, and dreams in the moment while they are still fresh.

Trees have always been very important in my life.

When I was growing up, they offered friendship without judgement and a place to safely explore and dream.

I would sit with them for hours sharing in the silence constantly amazed by the different shapes of leaves reflected in the light and the texture of the bark . . . and the random ant determined to complete their task.

As an adult I have walked through Warren Park many times. The trees have shared their strength and silence as they helped me find balance and serenity.

This is my way to say Thank You to the trees and share their energy and spirit with you. To remind you to be well rooted in the ground, standing tall as you reach up to the sky… and always remember to whisper your dreams to the leaves so they can be carried off into the wind so the seeds may take root in fertile soil.

Trees are Home to many different life forms.

Some benefit the Tree.
Some co-exist with the Tree.
Some are harmful to the Tree.

What are some of the different life forms you might find in the park?

What might their homes look like?

Are they in plain sight or hidden?

Look up towards the sky.
Look around the tree.
What might be hidden under the ground?

This project is being created as part of Navigations, a series of artist projects that are shared and realized in public spaces. Thank you to my partner and unwavering supporter Pablo Escriva, and Katherine Dreher, who instilled within me the concept of ‘The Realm of Possibilities.’ Thank you Warren Park, all the trees and animals that taught me in the silence between the steps of my daily walks about our connection to each other through nature that surrounds us in the city. Appreciation and gratitude to Roman Susan Art Foundation for making What is a Tree? project possible.

John-Michael Korpal creates inter-sensory works exploring the visceral shared space between art and the viewer. Korpal has exhibited throughout the Midwest, with work featured at the Grunwald Gallery of Art at the Kinsey Institute, Governor’s State University, Hyde Park Art Center, and elsewhere. Korpal has completed the Visual Art Certificate Program from Graham School-University of Chicago, and participated in the Center Program at Hyde Park Art Center. Korpal is a member of the Rogers Park Art Alliance, Chicago Calligraphy Collective, West Ridge Artists and Third Estate Art. For more info, please visit