Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees

This blog serves as a portfolio as well as working notes for a project where Annette Arlander spends time with specific trees and poses for camera together with them.

The title of this artistic research project alludes to the celebrated photography book Meetings with Remarkable Trees (1996) by Thomas Pakenham and is in some sense forming a counterpoint to it, by questioning what is remarkable and what is unremarkable, while focusing on individual trees. The medium in this project is not photography, however, but rather performance for video and recorded voice. The project is further developing experiences from the artistic research project Performing with Plants funded by Vetenskapsrådet at Stockholm University of the arts in 2018-2019.

Although we are often accused of “not seeing the forest for the trees”, this project wants to look at the opposite danger, not seeing the trees for the forest, and look at individual trees. This is not to deny that trees form networks and ecosystems or symbiotic relationships not only with other trees but with fungi, bacteria and all kinds of micro-organisms, and are in a constant exchange with their environment, as humans are as well.

Emphasizing individualism is a risky strategy in our current neoliberal capitalist society, where the importance of individualism is exaggerated anyway. It can nevertheless be useful to focus on singular trees, as an important first step towards decolonizing our relationship with “nature”. As late ecofeminist Val Plumwood (2003) pointed out, colonial thinking tends to emphasize a very strong difference between “us” and “them”, and to see “them” as all alike, stereotypical, non-individualised. Thus, attending to particular trees might work as a way to help us see trees as life forms that we have much in common with, despite our undeniable differences.

During 2021 the project was realized with the support of Suomen Kulttuurirahasto (the Finnish Cultural Foundation).

The project is now completed and it is described in the book Performing and Thinking with Trees, available also as a pdf for free download. See also the follow-up project Pondering with Pines.