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ARA Trees

In the River Bushwillow

Of all the trees I have met in Johannesburg during my ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency, so far, the huge tree next to the pond up on the slope of The Wilds Park, surrounded by benches, is the most photogenic one. The reason is light, of course, as usual, when it comes to working with camera – a dramatic division into brightly sunlit areas and deep shadows. The thick trunks or branches of the River Bushwillow (there was a label with the name attached to it) are very pale, almost white, so the light has an effect. They were strong enough to easily take my weight, but not very comfortable, I must say. Although I counted my breaths while sitting in the tree, and tried to relax and let my bony legs somehow sink down between the branches, sitting there was so uncomfortable that I gave up after 120 breaths. I must have breathed quickly, because usually 100 breaths will cover 20 minutes or more. Now the final video is only little more than 15 minutes (it took me quite a while to find a pose to remain in, to begin with) but that is probably enough. The other tree we visited in the same park, Henkel’s Yellowwood, which I leaned on, I managed to pose with for the full duration (21 minutes is the time my camera is recording video at a time) but the image is not especially interesting.

There have been other trees that I have been sitting in, indigenous trees like the Karee, and exotic ones, too, like the Ombu tree, the Cork tree and the Purple Leaf Acasia. They are all secondary to my real ambition here, that is, to record the trees of people and also their stories about the trees and why they chose them. That is something I have never done before, and after trying that here with Myer’s Oak, it seems like the right thing to do. I have recorded Samuel’s Oak, Christo’s Cabbage Tree and Donald’s Searsia, and I hope there will be more. The four first ones are all white men, so now it would be nice with some women, and some colour, too. Manola and the River blue gum tree we already visited, and hopefully we can record something next week. The trees are all listed here, sooner or later

In terms of changes to my practice here, the idea of recording other people performing or posing with the trees of their choice is something new, as is the idea of recording their stories, in the form of interviews of sorts. Concerning my own practice posing or balancing for less than a minute every morning with the oak on Galway road is new in terms of the pose, although the idea of time-lapse is well-worn. And sitting in individual trees for a while I have done before, the only difference is that here I use more time. Contrary to what I planned, I have not written anything with or by a tree. Perhaps I will write something afterwards…

By Annette Arlander

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