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Match Bonsai Project

The Match Bonsai Project explores the value of labour, and the commodification of art through modes of production and consumption.  Central to the project is the creation and destruction of painstakingly handcrafted bonsai trees made from thousands of match heads over hundreds of hours.

I have been working on The Match Bonsai Project since 2007 and currently developing a series of events to tour internationally. Each event involves the making of a local tree/s from matches with the public, who then become the entrants in a lottery to decide the fate of the match tree – Will it find a home with someone who helped create it or will it be unceremoniously burned?

A selection of Match Bonsai Trees

In 2010 The Union Gallery, Kingston, Ontario invited me to undertake a live art making event and exhibition that culminated in a Tree burning. Here are some of the highlights, but more detailed information can be found at Testbed for Trees blogpost.

A further ambition of The Match Bonsai Project is to experiment with interactive documentation processes that allow audiences to engage in all stages of making and destroying a Match Bonsai. These include interactive stop motion animations, super slow-motion 4K films of a tree/s burning and 3D 360 degree streaming. The aim is to produce stand alone films and content that can used to create artwork and video installations that can be exhibited alone or to provide context for live art making events.

This video from 2016 demonstrates how 360 degree, live interactive steaming could be used.  he hardware and software used in 360 degree streaming has improved significantly since this video was made. With the latest technology, immersive interactive live art making will enable artists to exhibit their work online in digital spaces and to engage audiences in their creative process.

Note: If this 360 video does not load as a navigable video in your browser, but instead appears as a distorted fisheye video, please try watching on Google Chrome to overcome browser incompatibility.

Below are two slow motion films of a branch and a kernel of a match bonsai burning in a device called a bomb. They were filmed with Ben Thorne and Dr Alexey Burluka from The School of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Leeds.

These Schlieren films (shot at 250fps and 500fps) do not show visible light, rather the varying density of the gasses that are produced and released as the match heads burn. While monochrome and only showing a tiny part of a Match Bonsai, they hint at the potential impact to be obtained by a high definition, colour film of a whole tree burning.

Made in 2010, this touch screen animation below allows viewers to see the tree from many angles at key points in it’s making process.  Building upon the code written by myself and Ben Dalton (mostly Ben) during Digital Media Labs in Hull. I was able to make an animation that could be controlled and navigated by the touch of a finger. There is the opportunity to use Arduino technologies to automate the documentation process and HTML5 code to enable interactive animations with thousands rather than hundreds of frames.

If you would like more information about the Match Bonsai Project, or wish to discuss bespoke project concepts, please email me at: i(at)

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