Week 16 (20th March – 28th March)

Sunday 20th March: This is the last week of the installation. I checked the soil for moisture in each of the 6 trees. As I suspected the soil was very dry over half way down the pot. So I decided to top water each tree. There is risk in this but I am sure the trees would not survive another week without the watering.

Monday 21st March: The trees showed some signs of leaf yellowing. This is because of the watering yesterday. The problem was not bad and I decided that the soil needed warming slightly more whilst it was wet at the surface. For this reason I increased the top soil temperature by 1 degree to 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). This temperature will run for 20 hours of the day. I can now understand where these problems occur and I am looking forward to this time next week when the trees will be back at my studio. I will then be able to place them into conditions where the top soil will dry out more naturally from heating above the trees.

Later in the day I felt there was a problem so I went back to the study. I have no idea why this strong sense popped into my head but I have learnt to follow these hunches. The trees were alright but clearly not as good as they were on Sunday. I rechecked everything and found that one of the timers, the light duration, had stopped. This would mean the trees would become completely out of schedule in relation to heat and light. This must have happened very recently as I do check the timers regularly. It probably happened in the morning and in some strange manner the problem got through to me. I recalibrated the timer and will check in the morning.


Tuesday 22nd March: I checked the timer and was pleased to see it had worked and was in synch with the temperature timer. I checked each tree for moisture and found they were still a bit dry and so gave each one varying amounts of water. I am aware that this may lead to leaf yellowing but I felt it best for the continued welfare of the trees. I kept all setting as they were. The humidity has remained very stable between 46 – 54%.


Wednesday 23rd March: Two of the 6 trees are looking a little unwell. This is because of the watering which has made the soil a cold and affects the general temperature of the environment. I am not sure if it is that this stage of the work is coming to an end but I really feel a strong desire to get them back to the studio.

Thursday 24th March: The two unwell trees are hanging in there but are in need of a couple of days in the grow tent to pull them around. There are now a total of 14 germinated trees in the study. My hope is to bring these trees on as they are intimately linked to the study at Nottingham Contemporary. They are metaphorically and actually connected to the air of contemporary art.




Friday 25th March: A couple of the trees looked a little unwell this morning, yellowing and falling leaves. I have removed them from the propagator environment and will bring them back to the grow tent over the weekend. I am not sure if this is a temperature or moisture problem. I am not too worried about these trees as I am confident they will thrive in the grow tent. The remaining trees look very well. They are all around 52 – 54 cm (20 -21 inches) in height and have very healthy leaf growth which is characteristically a beautiful dark green colour. The trees look handsome in the environment and they should survive the final weekend of the installation. All settings remain the same and the humidity is at 45%.


Saturday 26th March: The trees looked well this morning with little signs of stress on the leaves. The 2 trees I removed yesterday were still dropping some of their leaves. I think this is because of lack of heat in the study. Overnight they were behind the curtain next to the large picture windows in the study. The temperature outside the study dropped dramatically overnight and is forecast to drop a dramatic 10 degrees Celsius during the forthcoming week. Given this and the fact that the grow tent is ready to receive the trees I decided get them back to the studio.


Approximately 5 cm (2 inches) of growth during this week

The tallest tree, now in my studio, has grown to 60 cm (23.6 inches).


Sunday 27th March: This is the last day of the installation. The trees looked really well and I am pleased that they have survived what has been an intense period of study.  This phase of the project has become a relationship of meaning and materiality that constructed, cultivated and reviewed a poetics of responsibility. It has been a relationship that advocates an intelligent ecology based on values that are immanent in the complex workings of nature.

It is the closeness of the relationship between the Moringa Trees and me that will stay with me and, as I continue the project, will continue to engage my thoughts. The project sought to privilege an intimacy of knowledge gained through observation and experience. Such closeness tried to overcome the material, social and ethical distance that can occur in works that attempt to comment on situations or conditions that are evident but not experienced.

The organisation of the relationship seems to have been governed through many forms of knowledge; experiential, procedural, social, conceptual, qualitative, experimental, descriptive, quantitative and self knowledge.

There were times when the intense relationship felt cut off, isolated from everyday experiences on an island of conceptual and material localism. I have experienced this many times in many projects and am beginning to understand that these isolated experiences are a means to cross thresholds of knowledge. This is not to say the project was lonely; the many members of the public I met and talked with and the brilliant exhibition staff kept the processes in a flowing dialogue.

The trees got close to dying and, in the end, this edge of life was the most intense learning possible for me. This phase of the project was drenched in intricate interactions connecting within and without the complexity of the relationship. As such, negotiating such complexities embodied the realities of uncertainty and trust that are essential constituents of my works.

Tomorrow the trees will return to the studio and the next phase of the project will gradually emerge. I have prepared some plans but fully embrace the notion that such plans are not immutable within the material territory of an evolving project.


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Week 15 (13th March – 19th March)

Sunday 13th March: The trees seemed pretty good this morning with no more yellowing in the new growth. The 1 degree increase in temperature combined with a longer duration of the heat cycle seems to be good for the trees. I decided to stick with this new set up for at least a couple of day.

No sign of any germination yet but that is to be expected as germination generally takes between 7 and 14 days. With luck I should see the amazing sight of new shoots pushing aside the earth on Friday or Saturday of this week.

I spent of the rest of the day looking at the relics and absences of these ‘miracles’. I have pressed and studied a few of the trees that died during this project. Each tree has notes about its reasons for its possible demise. I am particularly interested in the marks left on the blotting paper when a tree is pressed. Such residues have the appearance similar to that of the stain left on a wall when a picture is removed. The marks describe a history and, for me, are examples of the ontology of loss. I am not yet sure how these ‘relics of miracles’ will construct themselves as works.

Tuesday 15th March: I couldn’t visit the trees yesterday so was keen to see them this morning. The looked probably the healthiest they have for a few weeks. There is little sign of any further yellowing on the new growth and all the new leaves seemed relaxed. It is almost a week now since the root washing intervention and that, combined with increasing both temperature and its duration, seems to have helped these amazingly resilient trees. I checked the soil for moisture and made a decision not to water the trees at this moment. In order to help the new growth become stronger I increased the light times to 5 am – 9 pm. This is an increase of 1 hour and should be good for the trees. Meanwhile the top soil temperature remains at 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Fahrenheit) with a duration of 19 hours. I noticed the humidity was at 36% which is a little low. I realised that this was because one of the vents had been fully opened. I don’t see this as problem but will continue to monitor light, temperature and humidity.

Wednesday 16th March: The trees seemed well again this morning although the environment was a little cold because a couple of the vents had been left open over night. The new growth is still strong. I carefully checked the soil for moisture levels. It is now 8 days since the trees were watered. Whilst the lop levels of the soil were pretty dry the lower levels of the soil had high moisture levels. I am wary of over watering and so decided to check again tomorrow. I checked the propagators for any signs of germination. I found no signs of soil disruption as the trees push into the light. I gave each pot a misting of water because it is keeps the top surface soil easier to push aside as the tree emerges. The extra hour of light seems to have been helpful in building the strength of the trees but I will keep monitoring the light hours.

The humidity was 36% which I think is because of the vents being opened. I will check again tomorrow.


Thursday 17th March: I fully expected to water the trees this morning but they looked really well and I decided to leave well alone. It is 9 days since they were re-potted and had their roots washed but experience and research tells me that it is best to look for signs of lack of water from the trees. There are no signs of the leaves drooping, going brown at the edges or yellowing that indicates lack of moisture. I will check again tomorrow. I have lightly watered the trees here at home which were re-potted a day before the trees in the study, and so can see how this may affect the trees.

I have seen a pin prick of green in the centre of one of the germinating pots of soil. I hope the tree will emerge by tomorrow morning. This is exciting as it will be a tree that is born so to speak in the place of the installation. I hope I can then share with visitors to the project the early days of these remarkable trees and complete the installation ‘starting again’ so to speak.

I did not change the temperature or light hours. The humidity has increased to 43%.


Friday 18th March: The trees looked well this morning. I checked the moisture levels in the soil and found the soil to be pretty dry with the exception of the very bottom of the pot. This is not surprising as the trees had not had any water since they had a soil change some 10 days ago. Whilst I was sure the trees would keep going over the weekend I decided to give each of them a small capillary watering. This is because I know I will be away on several days next week and want to feed them now rather than risk problems happening whilst I am absent. As the installation finishes a week on Sunday then this may be the last watering of the trees whilst they are in the project environment.

The other news from the project is that 3 Moringa Oleifera trees have germinated in the study space. These trees have been born in the light of a gallery and within the space of the project. I have left them in the propagator to gain some strength before moving them to a space where visitors to the project can see them. They will need watering every 3 days during these first weeks. When I left the humidity of the environment had moved from 38% to 44%. This is fine and is accounted for by the introduction of water into the system.


Saturday 19th March: The tree looked pretty well after the capillary watering yesterday. There is one leaf on one of the trees that looks like a scorched leaf brought on by lack of water and I am concerned about this. So I plan to get to the study when it opens at 11 am and re-check the moisture levels in the soil of all the trees. This may seem over the top but after all this concentrated labour to try and better understand the growth of these trees it would be very sad if the last week of the project saw them getting ill again. I am pretty sure that I will need to top water the trees. Further to this I am conscious that several of the trees have places to go to that can provide a really fine environment for them and I do not want to deliver trees that are not well.

Overnight several more trees germinated. I removed them from the propagator and watered them. I will check them on Sunday. The humidity has risen slightly to 46% which is indicative of the water added to the system on Friday.

This has been a good week for the trees and I am now pretty optimistic that the trees will continue to grow over the final week of the installation.

There has been some growth this week.

All trees have grown approximately 4 cm (1.6 inches) this week.

The tallest tree, now in my home, has grown to 57 cm (22.4 inches).

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Week 14 (6th March – 12th March)

Sunday 6th March: The tree felt over stressed to-day. It may well be that it is me that is over stressed but I have trust some instincts within this co-relationship. I decided to switch the lights off and reset the temperature to switch off at 8 pm and to come back on at 6 pm. The trees in the standard light of the study looked so fragile. These trees are very beautiful.

Two of the trees looked very ill and I removed them to bring them back to my studio where I can place them into a better environment and, more importantly, take a good look at what the problem may be. Back in the studio I very carefully removed the trees from the soil. At first the roots looked ok but on closer inspection I detected the blackened roots of root rot. I re-potted them and placed them into the grow tent which has heat, fans and lights all independently controlled to try and give the trees the best possible chance.

I know that root rot will kill the trees and so plan to try a procedure on Monday to remove the rot and help the tree recover.

Monday 7th March: I went to Nottingham Contemporary to replace the lights and reset the timers. The trees had not suffered from the lack of light but were looking unwell. I tested for moist and decided to capillary feed them with approximately 2 fluid ounces of water.

I then set off back to the studio to try the procedure to remove the root rot. Firstly I cleaned and disinfected a washing up bowl. I filled the bowl with warm water and added 3 teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide to the water. The hydrogen peroxide is known to be affective on root rot. It also has the advantage of adding oxygen to the soil. I removed all 5 trees from their pots and carefully placed them into the liquid. They will sit in the solution for an hour or so. Meanwhile I threw away the old soil from all of the pots and cleaned the pots with warm soapy water. I also gave each pot a spray of anti bacterial liquid. It is important to keep each of the processes as clean as possible.

After an hour and a half I filled all the pots with new, uncontaminated compost. I carefully removed each tree from the dilute hydrogen peroxide mixture and replanted them. I then placed them back in the grow tent and crossed my fingers. The procedure is tricky and does put the trees at risk but I felt it was a risk worth trying at this moment. One thing I did notice when the roots were soaking that a couple of trees seemed to increase a purple tinge to their tops. Whilst this may indicate a phosphorous deficiency I hope it is a simple indication of new growth. I won’t know for a few days if the procedure has helped the trees or not. If it has helped I will apply the treatment to the trees in the environment.

I also spent some of the day experimenting with producing water colour paint from the Moringa leaf powder that I have been making from the leaves I have collected. As they dry out they crumble into a fine dust of Moringa leaf powder. To date I have worked out the relationship between the glycerine and gum arabic (1 part glycerine to 4 part gum arabic). I need to make this solution slightly wetter by adding a little boiled water. The tests I have done using other powders are currently drying but I think the Moringa paint will work.

Tuesday 8th March: After the hydrogen peroxide treatment yesterday I fully expected to be confronted by the awful sight of dead trees in the studio. I was amazed to see trees showed little sign of shock and I think I may even have detected the beginnings of new growth. It is a thing of wonder to see how resilient these trees are proving to be. To me they look remarkable having long stems with just a few leaves at the top. It is early days but I really hope they can start to re-grow.

In the study I gave the trees a flood watering containing a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide. Flood or flush watering can is of benefit for some plants although there are inherent risks in the process. The thing to do is monitor the trees carefully a few hours after watering and assess the situation.

I returned to the study in the afternoon and made the decision to wash the roots and change the soil. I removed the trees from the soil and soaked them in water for about an hour. I checked all the roots. All of trees seemed to have very dry soil almost glued to the roots and I can only conclude that the roots were not getting enough oxygen. If this was the case then the peroxide will have helped. I also detected some brown roots that were indicative of root rot. I carefully cut these away. Finally I noted that three of the six trees had very well developed tap roots whilst the others had poorly developed roots in general and very small tap root development.

Next I the soil from all the pots and cleaned each pot, treating them with an anti bacterial spray to ensure any possible virus was not left in the pot. With terracotta pots it is best to through the pots out if a virus is possible. This is because of the porous nature of the pots. In this particular instance I am sure the anti bacterial spray and washing with warm soapy water will have prevented any further infection. I filled each pot with nutriment rich compost and replanted the trees.

Returning them to the environment I knew that this procedure may be too much for the trees but also knew that it needed to be done. I left hoping that they had a good night and started to recover.

Wednesday 9th March: I was apprehensive as to what I would find in the study. All of the trees looked stronger and healthier. I can only conclude that yesterday was a success and that these remarkable trees will survive and grow. This was the first visit in many days when I didn’t change anything. It is early days but I do sense the trees are feeling good; as am I.

The temperature at soil level is 27 degree Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity is at 60%.

Thursday 10th March: Much the same as yesterday with trees looking much better and the signs of new growth coming on is encouraging. Given all that has happened through this co-relationship I do realise that I must not over relax at this stage. It was only a couple of days ago that I was washing the trees roots in a dilute hydrogen peroxide so vigilance is needed. That said I am amazed that there appears to no signs of plant shock. I had set the temperature control to run slightly longer than the light phases as I did not want the new wet soil to get over cold in the evening. However I may reinstate the synchronised relationship between light and temperature tomorrow after I have checked the trees more closely and assessed the moisture levels of the soil.

I have now mixed and made the water colour paint from the Moringa leaf powder. The paint appears to be soil brown in colour but, when water is added, it is more of greenish colour. The pigment is 100% Moringa Oleifera leaf powder suspended in gum Arabic, distilled water and glycerine. My practice does attempt to transform materials both as actualities and metaphysically; attempting to make layers of connections both within and without the context the installation. All of which broadens the possible readings of the work.

The temperature at soil level is 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity is at 57%.

Friday 11th March: The trees looked like they were still recovering this morning with good signs of new growth. I checked the soil of each tree. The soil was still pretty wet from Tuesday when the old soil was replaced. I decided not to synchronise the light with the temperature as that would give a longer period of time when the environment was cooling. The soil felt a little cold and so I increased the temperature from 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) at top soil level. The humidity was at 47%, a 10% drop from yesterday. I am considering the possibility of closing the vents for a day in order to hold the heat in the environment or to increase the temperature at 1 degree a day over the next 3 days.

Yesterday I planted 18 Moringa Oleifera tree seeds in pots of soil and placed them in small unheated propagators. To-day I placed these propagators over the heating vents in the study. Germination should happen between 7 -15 days.  I hope that some of the seeds will germinate and I can complete the project with Miracle trees that first experienced light in the specific context of the study in Nottingham Contemporary.

Later in the day I moved 3 of the trees from the grow tent in my studio and placed them in a south facing window space in the room where I work on the computer. These trees were all but dead last Monday but have started to signs of new growth. At present they are essentially slender stems with a little growth at the top; very beautiful and very frail. However I have seen that each of these stems are beginning to flush with the purple tinge that seems indicate recovering growth. I have found out that the trees may start to regenerate their branches in a few weeks time.

Saturday 12th March: The trees really got to me to-day. I was tired when I visited the installation but the sight of these six 13 weeks’ old trees was quite overwhelming. It was clear that they were still pushing out new growth but were also struggling with lower branches and some of the new growth. All in all they looked so very fragile and, to me, miraculous all at the same time. The metaphor of the miracle and its death was always underpinning this project from the outset. In this moment I could see both and it really moved, upset and disturbed me.

The work is real and alive. It is vulnerable and many times during this study I have encountered a heady mix of sensing what I do not and cannot know. This space of uncertainty, perhaps beyond reason is the space I try to occupy. It is a space at the limits of my knowledge. The co-relationship of me and the miracle trees is suffused with the experience of knowing nothing but trying, all the same, to rigorously critique the unknown. It is a project that generates question after question. Many of the questions are pursued through an incremental change of the environment; temperature, light hours, humidity and so on. Each change adds to my knowledge of the cartography of the relationship; a map that insists on territory that is not known but is hinted at. It is a map whose borders are mysteries that dare me to walk along them; each walk is transformative. To me the trees are exquisite, complex and perplexing.

I checked the trees and found the soil to be surprisingly cold. I increased the temperature to 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Fahrenheit at top soil level. I also adjusted the times the heat is on from 5 am – 9 pm (16 hours) to 5 am – 12 midnight (19 hours). I will check if this is helping the trees tomorrow. I also checked the propagators behind the curtains to see if the surface of the soil was still moist. It was and I will check again tomorrow.

Whilst writing this text I can look to my left and see the tree Moringa Oleifera trees that I removed from the environment as I thought they would die. They are thin but are alive and growing.

There has been some growth this week.

Approximately 1.5 cm (.5 inch) of growth this week.

The tallest tree, now in my home, remains 54 cm (21.25 inches).

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Week 13: 27 Feb – 4 Mar

Sunday 27th February: The environment changes seemed to have happened without any great catastrophe although I could see no improvement in the condition of the trees. I am beginning to think they may have root rot which is the disease that the Moringa Oleifera trees are known to be susceptible to. Root rot does kill the plant. The study was busy so I have to wait until Monday to do as much as possible to better the condition of the trees. I intend to carry out a proper examination of the soil and roots, decided whether to flush or bottom water the trees, add a fan to improve air circulation, and, possibly, add a height extension to the environment. Bottom watering is an attempt to water the tree through the dishes that the pots sit on. The advantage to this is that it may encourage the tap root to develop strength as it drills down to find water. Flush watering is more or less giving the tree a shower by pouring large quantities of water through the soil; a kind of cleansing. This is a common procedure with many plants and I have done it with a lemon tree. However it is very risky and I think it may do more damage than good.

Air circulation is important. A fan may make the trees stronger as the roots develop strength as they gain strength from counteracting the wind.

Monday 28th February: Arriving early at Nottingham Contemporary I quickly checked humidity and temperature in the environment (46% humidity and 27.7 degrees Celsius (81.86 degrees Fahrenheit) at top soil level. The trees had dropped a few more leaves but less than I had expected. I think the connection of light to heat is working.

I dismantled the environment casing and removed the trees. The first thing I did was set up a fan and positioned it facing the trees. This was the first strong air movements that the tree had encountered. As I previously mentioned the trees gain strength through counteracting the force of the wind. The sight of the trees outside of the environment blowing in the artificial wind was really compelling.

I had brought with me a moister meter and a pH soil reader. As expected the soil was very dry at its base, slightly moist in the middle section and dry at the top. I gave each tree 4 fluid ounces of water which I poured into the base tray of each pot. Several hours later, on re-checking the moist reading, I repeated this action giving a total of 8 fluid ounces of water that was bottom fed.

The pH reader gave a reading of some 6.5 which is slightly over alkaline for the Moringa Oleifera trees. Moringas prefer a slightly acidic soil at approximately 6.1- 6.2 pH. I carefully removed some of the top soil manure at both surface and at the edges of the pot and replaced this with acid based compost. I hope that this will, in combination with the other soils, make a better soil for the trees. I also gave this new top soil a light watering of about 1 fluid ounce per tree.

I had bought a small desk top fan to install in the environment but struggled to fix it into position. I plan, as a temporary measure, to install it outside the environment adjacent to a lower open vent. Finally I placed the trees back into their environment and increased light hours to 14.5 hours a day (5.30 am – 8 pm). This may seem a lot of hours but these lights can never replicate the power and intensity of sun light. In hydroponics terms it is considered that 12 – 14 hours a day is a vegetative growth similar to a winter state. I do not want to push these trees so have gone for duration slightly above the edge of vegetative growth.

Tuesday 1st March: The trees have deteriated a little. I did expect this after the watering and soil changes of yesterday. The environment was steamed up and the humidity was 75%. I also expected this and was able to open the vents and use the fan to quickly condense the water vapour and bring the humidity down to 48%. These are early days after the changes, which I believe were necessary, and I need to keep observing for at least a few more days before making any new decisions. I have prepared the grow tent in my studio to take a couple of trees for intensive care, if necessary.

I set up the small desk fan adjacent to a lower vent and set it to run for 15 minutes 3 times a day at 4 hourly intervals (10 am, 2 pm and 6 pm). The 15 minute duration may seem short but the fan does lower the temperature of the environment and I want to try to keep a balance between air circulation and temperature build up. The 4 hour gap is sufficient for the environment to regain its heat.

Wednesday 2nd March: This morning the trees seemed little changed. The environment was at a slightly low temperature of 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 degrees Fahrenheit) with a humidity of 46%. I think the low temperature is due to a combination of the evening cooling and the affect of the fan. I dismantled the environment casing and inspected the trees. The top soil was surprisingly cold and wet. I thought this may happen and had brought with me a hair dryer that I have used before on over wet top soil. With each tree I removed a little of the wet soil and replaced with soil that I had constructed in my studio and that I knew was pretty dry. In between doing this I used the hair dryer to gentle raise the temperature in the top soil.

I also adjusted the light hours to 15 hours a day (5.30 am – 8.30 pm). This was both a plan to try and bring on growth but also to reduce the time to 9 hours when the light and heat is switched off.

I placed the trees back into their environment and left whilst the temperature was slowly building. I plan to return later in the day to see how the temperature, humidity and trees are doing.

I returned to the study. The temperature at soil level is 28 degree Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity was at 47%, both of which are good. The trees seemed relaxed for the first time in a couple of weeks.

Thursday 3rd March: Much the same this morning with environment well balanced and the leaves on the trees appearing flat and smooth; an indication of less stress. I am now sure that running the heat in synch with the lights has been beneficial. I am also sure that capillary action feeding is the best solution to watering in an artificial environment that is heated from a base plate.

I checked the soil conditions of all the trees. Whilst there were variations the soil was generally moist throughout its depth. The earlier problem of having trees growing in soil that was very dry at its base, wet in the middle and dry on its surface has been addressed through the bottom feeding. The pH balance is now at 6.3. This is very near to the ideal, slightly acidic soil that the Moringa Oleifera tree prefers. The introduction of a layer of slightly more acidic soil has changed the pH balance.

I am concerned that the leaves are still yellowing and growth has all but stopped. For this reason I decided to check for root rot in the sister plants I have at my studio. These are 3 plants that looked very weak after 8 weeks of growth and were removed from the environment and placed next to the glass window in the study to see how they reacted to natural light. In week 11 I moved them back later to my studio for further study. In the studio they were placed into a large grow tent and given fairly ideal conditions of temperature and light. These were very weak plants but had experienced all the stages of soil change and watering as the trees in the study. My point is that I can use one of the weakest of the trees to see if it is suffering from root rot.

I carefully pulled the small tree for the soil and washed its root system. I was looking for discoloured and blackened roots. The roots were underdeveloped; a problem identified from early in the trees growth. I also found some evidence of the blackened roots that indicate root rot or a root virus of some kind. For this reason I washed the roots and changed the soil of all three trees and will observe them over the next few days to see if this radical intervention improves their wellbeing. If the test trees react well to this treatment I will apply the same action to a couple of the trees in the installation.

Friday 4th March: A few more yellowing leaves this morning and little sign of new growth. I removed the yellow leaves in order to try to get the tree’s energy to go to the good growth. I also carefully removed each plant from its pot in order to small the roots. On of the indications of root and soil problems is that the roots and surrounding soil smalls bad. I am glad to say that each tree had a fine fresh, almost scented smell to them. This was a radical intervention but needed to be done. Whilst pocking around in the soil I was able to ascertain that the soil was fairly moist, which is good, but much colder than I expected. If the roots are fine then it may be that the problem is a combination of cold soil that has been very wet for a few day in week 11. I also noted that a couple of the trees had very well developed tap roots whilst a couple more seemed not to have properly developed a tap root. This could be explained by the early soil being very dry at its base and consequently the tap root drilling for water would not go towards the bottom of the pot.

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Week 12: 20 Feb – 26 Feb

Sunday 20th February: I managed to purchase a couple of new grow lights (200 w (6400k) white/blue spectrum) from a local horticulture specialist and installed the new lights in the installation. They seem brighter and I decided to extend the light hours to 14 hours a day (6 am – 8 pm). I will check tomorrow to see if the 14 hours with new lights is over doing it for the trees.

No change to the welfare of the trees although the yellowing on the leaves seems to be slowing down. Whilst installing the lights I took the opportunity to remove any yellow leaves that were ready to fall. I have learnt that if you gentle pull your hand over the branch the leaves that are about to drop will come away. In this manner the branch is left unaffected. I have also observed that the skeleton branch will change colour and, eventually, the tree will drop the branch. All of this is part of the growth of the trees as they select their energy use to survive.

The temperature within the propagator had remained steady at 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit at soil surface height. The humidity had dropped to 41%. I want the humidity to be within 10% either side of 50%. So 41% is alright but could do with being slightly higher. By careful control of the vents I am beginning to get better at controlling the humidity levels and, consequently, the heat within the installation.


Monday 21st February: The current duration of lighting doesn’t seem to have adversely affected the trees. The trees still seem unwell and more leaves had yellowed overnight. The humidity has dropped to 36%; below the minimum best of 40%. I opened the environment and took a long and close look at the trees. The soil deep in the pot does still feels cold and wet. I aerated the soil of each tree. The soil needs to dry out more and so I hope a combination of aerating plus an increase in temperature of the environment will quicken the process.

I replaced the trees back into their cased environment and increased the temperature of the reader that is positioned at soil level. I set this at 28 degree Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit). This means that the base temperature is 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Whilst these new temperatures altered the environmental conditions I also closed the vents with the exception of the top ones. The humidity rose to 46% and seemed to stabilise at that level.

It is dispiriting to arrive at the installation hoping that the attention from the day before would have encouraged better health in the trees only to find little improvement or worse. That said, I will be back tomorrow to check again on the environment. This is the labour of the project and I am learning much from these closely observed changes within the immediate environment of the trees; a labour extricated from capital; a labour valued through the co-relationship of the trees and me as a study within a study.


Tuesday 22nd February: This morning the environment had not changed from the settings of yesterday and the trees seemed to have stopped yellowing and dropping their leaves. The humidity was at 46% and the temperature at top soil level was 27.7 degrees Celsius (81.86 degrees Fahrenheit). This is the first day for 13 days where I have not had to make any changes. I am aware that the humidity could be a bit higher and do expect the level of humidity to drop as the soil dries. If the level drops below 36% I will introduce a couple of small bowls of water into the environment. Humidity is important to the welfare of the trees as the clusters of water molecules in the air can restrict the photosynthesis of the trees. At very high levels, (85-95%) humidity, the water vapour density does affect the transpiration of the tress.  Plants breathe through tiny openings on the undersides of their leaves called stomata. The leaves open and close their stomata under certain conditions. If the temperature becomes excessive and causes a tree to start loosing more water than it can take up the tree will close the stomata’s on their leaves in order to slow down the water loss; all of which means very high or low humidity is not good for the trees. For now I am happy to let the environment stay in its current settings and balance.

Looking back I am pretty sure that the combination of watering the manure and a temporary break down of the heating system meant the tree’s environment became a winter one. In such conditions the trees would do everything to survive. In this instance the trees would drop their leaves and conserve energy.


Wednesday 23rd February: The environment seems to be raining stable with humidity at 46% and the temperature at top soil level was 27.7 degrees Celsius (81.86 degrees Fahrenheit). I opened the propagator in order to remove some leaves that had fallen and to check the moisture of the soil. It has been a week since the trees were watered with approximately 8 fluid ounces per tree. Despite the top soil looking very dry the soil about 3 inches (7.5 cm) down is still fairly moist. I have decided not to water them until I am sure the trees need it. Moringa Oleifera trees are drought resistant. This is because the trees have a tap root that will go deep into the earth to find water. However when the trees are grown in pots the tap root is limited by the height of the pot. This one of the reason why it is recommended to plant the trees into large pots when the tree is between 60 -80 cm in height (approximately 12 -15 weeks). If possible, this should be the final re-potting as Moringa Oleifera trees do not like being re-potted.

Another reason to pot the young trees in large pots is that it is thought that they, like some other plants and trees, have the capacity to calculate the volume of soil it is in. These trees and plants will then grow only to the capacity that the sense the volume of soil will sustain. If this is correct then a tree in a small pot will stop growing as it reaches its calculated limit.

The tallest trees are now within a few inches of the top of the propagator. Ideally it is best to keep a distance of approximately 7-9 inches (18 – 23 cm) between the tops of the trees and the lights. If the lights are too distant then the plants and trees can suffer from ‘plant stretch’ as they pull towards the light. Plant stretch will produce thin stems and can cause the trees to fall over if the problem is not corrected. That said, even with a new height extension the lights will be approximately 9 – 13 inches (23 – 33 cm) from the tops of the tallest trees. I think this is a reasonable distance. I may install the new extension at the beginning of the next.


Friday 25th February: I was away yesterday on a project site visit so I was anxious to visit the trees.

The environment was much colder than it should have been; registering a temperature of 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 degrees Fahrenheit) at top soil level. This is some 8 degrees below what it should be. The humidity was also at 65%. Clearly the lower temperature had increased the humidity. There was some yellowing of the leaves but less that on prior visits. I checked the installation and realised that the temperature sensor had dropped from the top of the pot, resting on the top soil, to the base of the structure. This will have lowered the temperature considerably. I can only speculate that someone had pulled at the wire of the temperature sensor or had banged into the structure causing the sensor to drop. The more likely of these options is pulling the wire. This is half term week and a child could easily have played with the wire. These moments or incidents are all part of the ontology of project; an evolving material history.

All in all I know I have probably caught the problem in time and would never wish for children not to visit art galleries. My childhood was spent in many happy hours walking around Birmingham City Art gallery while my mother and sisters went shopping. I can’t honestly say I didn’t fiddle and play with some of art I came across. To prevent the problem happing again I tapped the wire and sensor into position.

The plan had been to water the trees today. It has now been 9 days since they were last watered. Having opened the structure I checked the soil of one of the trees. The soil was still fairly moist. It was also pretty cold due to the temperature drop. I decided not to water them but did give the top soil a light misting on each of the eight trees. I think this was sufficient to slightly soften the surface of the soil which is predominantly made up of quite dry manure.

I reset the temperature sensors and closed the environment opening only the top two vents on either side. I sat with the installation for about and hour and checked that the installation was warming up. As the heat rose the humidity started to fall. I returned several hours later and was pleased to see that the installation had returned to its set conditions. The humidity was at 51%. The temperature at base level was the temperature at top soil level was 27.7 degrees Celsius (81.86 degrees Fahrenheit).


Saturday 26th February: The trees have deteriorated overnight with many yellowing and fallen leaves. This is difficult as I think I have tried most variants and possibilities. I went for a coffee and a think.

I decided to link the heater into the light cycle. I am now running them off the one timer. Up to now the heater has been on almost continuously and I am wondering if the trees need some element of cold overnight. This will change the environment and I predict much greater fluctuations in temperature and humidity but it will be more accurate a replication of the rhythm of a natural climate. I am also very unsure about watering. I did check yesterday and they still seemed moist but it is now 10 days since they were last watered. Tomorrow I will check how the environment has responded to these changed conditions. It is amazing how even a fraction of a degree in temperature change can alter the complexities and effects of our environment. The installation will experience a change of approximately 10 degrees over 10 hours; a cooling and heating that attempts to better replicate a natural cycle and maybe help the trees grow stronger.

Approximately 1 cm (0.39 inch) of growth during this week

The tallest tree is now 54 cm (21.25 inches).


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Week 11: 13 Feb – 19 Feb

Monday 14th February: Yesterday I received an email from the gallery letting me know that, over the weekend, the top soil of the trees had developed a white mould.

I am not sure what the mould is but the trees, whilst looking a bit shabby with a number of yellowing lower leafs, seemed to growing fairly well. All the same the mould had to be removed and measures to try and stop it happening again put into place. I think the problem was too much water and heat without enough ventilation. This shortage of air and very high humidity may be ideal conditions for the soil mould.

I removed a large portion of the top soil and replaced it with manure taking care not to disturb the roots of the trees. I also removed some of the yellow leaves. Moringa Oleifera trees do not seem to mind any kind of pruning. I sense pruning does improve the condition and welfare of the tree. Removing the lower leaves allows the energy to be used on its new growth. I returned the tress to the propagator and decreased the temperature of the propagator to 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). I then opened all the vents to their widest position. I decided to not water the manure, allowing the soil to dry.


Tuesday 15th February: Checked the trees to see how the changes from yesterday had affected them. I checked for any new signs of mould but couldn’t see any. The trees looked fairly well with some new growth evident on all of them. The humidity was at 54% which is alright although I would like to reduce it a bit more. The temperature did seem a little low so I increased it to 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit). I have also increased lighting time from 12 hours to 13 hours (6.30 am – 7.30 pm). I will check again tomorrow as I try to get the optimum balance of light, heat and humidity for the trees.


Wednesday 16th February: With exception of one tree that has been struggling for a couple of weeks, the trees are looking fairly well. I decided to water them giving each approximately 8 fluid ounces per tree. I did this to ensure that the nutriments, particularly nitrogen, from the manure were passed to the roots. It is a risk as they have received a lot of water over the last couple of weeks. However I intend to leave the watering for at least 9 days from now to study how the trees are affected and to ensure the soil is dried. I did notice that the leaves give an immediate response to the watering. They tend to form small wrinkles or bubbles on their surface. This eventually smoothes out as the tree relaxes with its environment.

I increased the base temperature to 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and opened all the vents. One problem is that people visiting the installation play with the vents. I am not overly concerned about this as I regularly check the trees and the excellent gallery assistants keep a keen eye on the installation. The humidity was at 46% which where, ideally, I would like it to remain or decrease slightly. I have increased the light hours to 13.5 hours (6 am – 7.30 pm). This is a return to the hours the trees were receiving prior to the re-potting. I am hoping that this arrangement is getting closer to the optimum environment for the trees.


Thursday 17th February: The trees looked unwell this morning with several new yellowing leaves and a general sense of struggling to survive. It is clear to me that the watering yesterday has affected the trees and that the risk I took was a mistake. One of the things that will kill a Moringa Oleifera tree is root rot. This occurs when water does not drain away from the roots hence it being essential to have them in a well drained soil. Growing them in pots makes this even more vital.

The humidity was at 50% slightly over that of yesterday but that isn’t such a concern. What is concerning is that the general temperature in the environment is low. Even with the base temperature set at 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 degrees Fahrenheit) the top soil temperature is approximately 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and can get a low as 16 degrees Celsius (60.8 degrees Fahrenheit). This will not kill the tree but, given that they grow best at temperatures between 25 – 35 degrees Celsius (77 – 95 degrees Fahrenheit), the trees will tend to think its winter and close down their growing cycle. Moringa Oleifera trees can survive low temperatures but not freezing.

At low temperatures the tree will turn their leaves to an almost a white yellow and drop all of them. I saw this happen in my studio whilst conducting experiments to see how the trees would react to a winter climate. This does not mean that the tree is dead as the leaves will regenerate with temperature increase. This how the tree protects itself and saves its energy.

With this in mind I increased the base temperature to 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit). This gives the top soil temperature of approximately 22 -23 degrees Celsius (71.6 – 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

This is at the edge of the minimum temperature range, but a 5 degrees increase is very large and I propose increase it incrementally over the coming weeks if necessary. I noticed that, as the temperature got higher, the humidity went down to 46%. This seemed counterintuitive but is another example of learning through observation. I have also set the vents to half open positions so as to try and hold some heat in the environment whilst keeping humidity down.

This now means that the environment for the Moringa Oleifera trees is in a very different environment from the room it is installed in. The study is at a constant temperature of 19.4 degrees Celsius (66.9 degrees Fahrenheit) at a humidity of between 32% -34% whilst the tree’s environment is at a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) with a varying humidity between 46% -70%. Further to this, the dawn to dusk hours of the grow lights situates the trees in early to middle spring whilst the study is clearly in middle to late winter; one space with differing sunrises and sunsets; one space with two seasons within it.


Friday 18th February: The struggle continues but this absorbing co –relationship between the Moringa trees and me seems destined to be intense for some time. This morning the trees looked less well than yesterday despite the attempts to increase the temperature in the environment. I checked the temperature and it was at a base level of 21.6 degrees Celsius (70.8 degrees Fahrenheit). This was very low and was not what I set yesterday. I checked the heat monitoring digital display for the propagator and it seemed to have stopped. I reset and rebooted the system. It did seem to immediately start to heat the environment. I can only conclude that their may have been a short power cut during the evening, although this is odd as I would have expected the heat to start up again post the power cut. All in all the trees looked cold and the yellowing on the leaves had increased.

I kept the base temperature at 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) but moved the temperature reader to above the soil level. This is to say that the set temperature, 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit), is set at this level. Consequently the base temperature will increase to achieve this set level as it is positioned higher up the environment casing. The base temperature to achieve the set temperature at this level is 30 Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

The humidity level was moving between 46 – 49%. I checked the soil and it was still wet.  I stayed with the work for a couple of hours monitoring heat and humidity. I also had the opportunity to talk with visitors to the installation. They were really engaged in the work and talking with them did help mitigate the intense concern I have for the trees. At this moment I am unsure if they will survive.

Saturday 19th February: Not much change this morning. There were a few more leaves yellowing but the temperature in the environment has increased. I am relieved to see that the problems with the propagator’s heater had not been repeated. The humidity was at 46%. All in all I sense that the trees are at a crucial point in their growth. Having got the temperature and humidity into some kind of balance I turned my attention to the lights. The grow lights can last for several thousand hours. However they do drop their intensity over time. There is little indication of this in terms of brightness as so it is advisable to keep a log of the hours the lights are on. These lights, along with 4 others, had been used in a prior installation and had been running for approximately 300 hours in this one. The duration hours from the prior installation were approximately 800 hours. Given the total light hours is now approximately 1100 then it advisable to buy two new lights. I plan to buy these tomorrow and install them later in the day.

This been a difficult and intense week where I felt like a bad neighbour in the relationship. The work is in a study and, as such, is conscious of learning and knowledge generated through the closely observed experiences held within the struggle to assist the tree’s growth and the subsequent relationship between trees and me. I also see the work as a bridge or example of priori knowledge that connects with many of the texts held in the study.

It is clear to me that I can follow the authority of mechanistic thinking, with its prescribed set of cause and effect relationships and learn something from the trees. It is also clear that the trees do not necessarily follow the mechanisms we ascribe to them. They are far more complex than that. To learn more and to maintain the relationship I need to fall into ‘slow time’ and become more able to subvert the rationality of mechanistic.

The project is saturated in intricate interactions connecting within and without the complexity of the relationship between the trees and me. As such, negotiating such complexities embodies the realities of uncertainty and trust as essential constituents of these bridges. I know the trees may die. Equally I know that unless I trust the uncertainty of the relationship I will fall back to or run towards a mechanistic thinking that will not serve me or the trees well; I will be burning the bridges or, at best, forgetting to build them.

Approximately 3 cm (1 inch) of growth during this week

The tallest tree is now 53 cm (20.75 inches).

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Week 10: 6 Feb – 12 Feb

Sunday 6th February: I visited the trees to see if the high humidity from yesterday had affected the trees. The vent arrangement seemed to have worked and the trees were now in a climate of 55% humidity. They showed few, if any, signs of a reaction to high humidity.

Monday 7th February: I checked on the trees to see how they were taking to the re-potting. With the exception of one tree, suffering from plant shock, they seemed pretty good although I could see some stress in many of the leaves. For this reason I have reduced light hours from 13.5 (6 am – 7.30 pm) to 12 hours (7 am – 7 pm) a day. This gets slightly closer to the actual light hours at this time of year currently (9 hours 18 minutes). I have also reduced the propagator heat from 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) degrees at the top of the soil to 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit).

Wednesday 9th February: I checked again on the trees. Several of the trees showed signs of yellowing leaves. I concluded that, because the soil had been heated to at least 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over several weeks that the soil was probably being sterilized through this action. So I watered the trees with approximately 8 fluid ounces per tree. In this water I had added a very small amount of Epsom salts. I also watered into the soil a fish, blood and bone mix that should give the trees more nutrition. I am aware that the trees have received a lot of water over this period but I am convinced that the soil needed some extra nutrients. I have also further reduced the heating in the propagator to 20 Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). I will check regularly to see how this 5 degrees Celsius reduction of temperature affects the trees.

I also noted that the study space itself was a couple of degrees warmer. This movement from 19.4 degrees Celsius (67 degrees Fahrenheit) to 21 degrees Celsius (69.8 degrees Fahrenheit) is in line with the general increase in temperature in the climate outside of Nottingham Contemporary.

Thursday 10th February: I visited the trees to see how they were dealing with both the temperature reduction and the extra water feed they had yesterday. The tree seemed pretty good although the affects of the feed may not emerge for a couple more days. The overall temperature in the propagator was down so I moved the heat at the surface of soil from 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) to 22 degrees Celsius (71.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Ideally Moringa Oleifera trees like temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius (77- 95 degrees Fahrenheit). This means that the Nottingham Contemporary Moringa trees are growing at the low edge of their temperature range. I am still unsure if the nutriments in the tree’s soil are adequate and so I added some liquid fertilizer to each tree.

In the future I plan to feed the trees by layering manure on the top of the soil and watering through this layer. In their native climate this is the common process.

This should be enough interventions with the trees for a while.  I will continue monitor and learn from the trees but I sense they need a period of stability in order to further acclimatise to their environment.

Friday 11th February: Checked the trees to see if there are any signs of a reaction to the feeding and temperature changes. The trees seem to have reacted well to the liquid fertilizer. It is too early to see any change in the tree’s disposition but at least I know the feed has not damaged the trees. I have increased the temperature at soil level from 22 Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit).to 23 Celsius (73.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

This has been a busy week of interventions and I am reminded of a passage from my project ‘The Lemon Tree and Me’…The act of gardening subverts the authority of mechanistic thinking, with its prescribed set of cause and effect relationships that have enabled us to produce rational proofs. In gardening we live within the authority of nature and experience its immanent vitality in the emerging complexity of Life. The Lemon Tree & Me imagined a space for a creative dialogue between ecology and aesthetics; germinated from the seeds of practical experience the artwork grew into an inventory of my unique relationship with the tree.

Approximately 5 cm (2 inches) of growth during this week

The tallest tree is now 50 cm (19.7 inches).

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Week 9: 30 Jan – 5 Feb

Sunday 30th January: I watered the trees (4 fluid ounces)

Monday 31st January: I increased the light hours to 13.5 hours a day (6 am – 7.30 pm)

The humidity in the propagator is 45% and temperature is 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) at the soil surface level.

The study, the space the propagator occupies, has a humidity of 34% and a temperature of 19.4 degrees Celsius (67 degrees Fahrenheit)

Friday 4th February: I spent the day re-potting the trees. The Moringas had been in 18 cm (7 inch) plastic pots which I was replacing with 25 cm (9.75 inches) terracotta pots. I think the terracotta pots will be better for the trees growth as Moringa Oleifera trees do not like wet roots and are susceptible to root rot. The greater porosity afforded by the clay pots is preferable to the plastic. It is thought that Moringa Oleifera trees do have the capacity to sense the volume of soil they are in and grow to that volume. It is important to ensure that the volume of soil is increased in the early weeks of the trees growth. The trees were pot bound and I think this was the ideal time to plant in a greater volume of soil. That said there is always a risk of plant shock when re-potting. The trees seemed to take well to their new soils with little sign of plant shock.

Each tree was given approximately (6 – 8 fluid ounces). I added two height extensions to propagator to accommodate the new growth and the extra height of the pots.

Miracle tree installation 8

Miracle tree installation 8, John Newling

Saturday 5th February: I checked in to see how the trees were doing. The extra water from the day before had generated a micro climate of 80% humidity and the vents needed to be partially opened to drop this high humidity. That aside the trees looked very healthy with no signs of plant shock.

I am learning to read the leaves of these amazing trees. The leaves are very delicate and very expressive. When anything happens, light hours changing, temperature alterations, watering and feeding the leaves almost instantaneously display a reaction. I want the trees to relax into their environment. In leaf terms this means a very smooth surface and a consistent colouration running through it. The branch structure also gives clear signs of wellbeing or otherwise. I am interested in how this reading is learnt.

Approximately 5 cm (2 inches) of growth during this week

The tallest tree is now 46 cm (18 inches)

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Week 8: 23 – 29 January

The propagator is set at a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) at the soil surface level.

Sunday 23rd January: The grow lights are switched on. In the installation I am using 2 x 200 w white/blue grow lights. These lights are set at 11.5 hours a day (7 am – 6.30 pm)

Monday 24th January: The plants are watered (4 fluid ounces)

Wednesday 26th January: Due to the tree’s welfare, I removed 5 trees from the propagator leaving a total of 12 trees in the installation. The problem was overcrowding where some of the trees were shading the smaller trees from the light. This resulted in a few trees struggling with leaf growth.

Approximately 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) of growth during this week

The tallest trees at the end of week 8 are 41 cm (16 inches)

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Week 7: 16 – 22 January 2011

The propagator is set at a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) at the soil surface level.

Sunday 16th January: The trees are re-potted into 18 cm (7 inch) diameter pots

Tuesday 18th January: 17 trees are moved to Nottingham Contemporary’s study for installation

The environment of the study has a pretty constant humidity varying between 28% and 34% and a temperature of 19.4 degrees Celsius (67 degrees Fahrenheit) In this environment the propagator has much larger variations of humidity (between 34 and 74 % and a temperature range between 25 – 29 degrees Celsius (77 degrees to 84 degrees Fahrenheit) at the soil surface level.

John Newling, Miracle Trees

John Newling, Miracle Trees. Photo by Andy Keate

Thursday 20th January: I add a height extension to the heated propagator.

Saturday 22nd January: The installation opened to the public.

Approximately 5 cm (2 inches) of growth during this week

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