An exceptional, completely still and sunny day prompted me to try writing with a pine tree I had previously posed with. I was not happy with the first attempt, however, not being discernible enough among the branches, and tried again a second time. Thus, I have two letters that are somewhat similar and slightly different. Perhaps I will abandon my principle of transcribing the trace of the performance, the act of writing, and recording that as a voice-over to add to the video, and edit some form of mixture of the two letters instead, added to the second video. Or, perhaps I use this material to write a more academic style video essay. Here I nevertheless include both texts as rough, uncensored transcripts of my handwritten notes:
Dearest Pine Tree,
Excuse me for bumping into your ”lap” without notice, and coming to you like this, without forewarning. I was so perplexed hearing a motor sound, an airplane or helicopter in this silence that I forgot what I was about to write, so let me start again.
It is a great pleasure and honour to be able to sit on your branch and address you with this letter, simply to be with you on this island, a former military island that has been turned into a national park and opened to the public only five years ago. The island is full of pine trees, both old and young ones, and many of you are bent in strange contortions due to the constant wind. The reason I came to you today is exactly that, the extraordinary situation that there is no wind. It is so quiet that I can hear the buzz from the “radar” tower, not far from here. I have been here only for a week, so I cannot say for sure, but as I hear it is usually windy here, so let us enjoy this moment of stillness as a beautiful exception! I actually visited you last week and even posed for a video camera together with you, because I was so impressed by your place of growth. Half of your roots are cut off and a portion [part] of your trunk rests in mid-air. There is a big hole where sand has been extracted right next to you, to the right from where I sit, although I chose to place the camera in a such a way that your deformations and your precarious position do not show. Why did I do that, actually? Your “bravery” was what caught my attention to begin with. Perhaps as a gesture of respect, I guess. I wanted to show you at your best, not as the vulnerable creature you are, like all of us. – At this point I probably have to explain why I address you formally like this, and in English. This letter is aimed not only for you, but [also] to other humans to hear, or perhaps read as well. And unlike some other letters to trees I have written, this will be a letter pondering on letter writing and especially writing letters to trees, so a “meta-letter” of sorts, probably, at least on some level. I would not like to bother you with ponderings that have no relevance for you if I did not feel that you somehow accept being part of this attempt. With all your experience of winter storms, military assaults and now visiting tourists, lately, you are of course accustomed to human attention. And I do not really demand any response from you, I simply try to articulate my thoughts in your presence, in writing, as clearly as possible, so that you can sense them in your manner, or then my intentions at least, and my respect, if nothing else.
I have been experimenting with various ways of performing and posing with trees and the idea of writing letters to trees, like the one I am writing to you now, is something I have explored only recently. Earlier I wrote small texts on behalf of trees, and spoke them as the trees, as if the trees would speak, hanging some earphones on the branches of those talking trees. But that is a long time ago, and it was not a very satisfying way of performing together. It was more like using the tree as a puppet [in puppet theatre] to hang stories on. Well, what am I doing now, then? I am sitting on you as if on a wooden bench in a park, and writing “stories” again. Well, not exactly. There is a difference in trying to address you, to talk to you or with you, to engage in a communication with you, however clumsy or one-sided that might be, compared to speaking for you or on behalf of you. Speaking for others is ethically challenging, sometimes necessary, but often misguided. Listening might be the best option in many cases, and that is what I have tried to do previously. Or, if not directly listening, then being in the vicinity of, being nearby, sitting with you or some of your relatives, breathing together, growing together, sharing our participation in zoe, in life, and engaging in trans-corporeal exchanges, with all the chemicals and magnetic or other waves and various substances floating between us and through us. That is probably a more reasonable way of trying to perform together, after all, because this letter-writing is strangely one-sided. After all, letters are usually written to people who are not present. But there is an effort of creating an I-You relationship despite the risk of falling back to some kind of romantic notion of “merging with nature”, or projecting human sentiments on trees and other living beings, or even what they call the pathetic fallacy. But, in another way it would be an even more “pathetic” fallacy, I think, to assume that you would not be able to sense my presence in some manner. Ok, I am not suggesting that you can read this letter. Or even read my thoughts, but by at least trying to address you in this way, I feel there is some contact possibility [possibility for contact] opened between us. Rather than thinking of you as the “Other”, something wholly different and unreachable, I prefer to think of you as a relative, a distant one but a relative, nevertheless. And in some sense, we share the same ancestors, I guess. – Now I have used all my time, and more, and have to stop here. I want to thank you for your patience, and friendly, welcoming attitude and I want you to know that I really, really appreciate the possibility to spend time with you here today. Thank you once more, and all the best for the future!
Excuse me for disturbing you this November afternoon and please forgive me for recording this meeting with a video camera. I am very grateful for having the opportunity to spend time with you on this island, which was previously reserved for the military only, and has been transformed into a national park and opened to the public only five years ago. And I am grateful to you for allowing me to sit on your branch and to appearing or performing together with me for this brief moment. I also have to apologize for addressing you in English, which is not my native language, nor your preferred language, I assume. What your preferred language would be I do not even dare guess, something with (volatile) chemicals, perhaps. The reason for this formal address is that I hope this letter to reach other humans and not only you, that is, humans will hear or probably read this letter as an example of my practice of writing letters to trees, and also as a “meta-letter” of sorts, since my aim is to consider this practice in terms of its ethical and artistic implications, at least I will try to do that. Meanwhile, I also hope that these thoughts will somehow reach you, if not through these words, then through my thoughts. And even though you might not be able to read my thoughts in a strict sense, I hope you will be able to sense my intentions, somehow, and to affirm [ascertain] that they are benign and respectful. Anyway, I hope you are well this lovely afternoon, which is truly exceptional by being completely still. I have only spent little more than a week on this island, and so far, the wind has been heavy [strong] day in and day out. You have spent all your life here, so you should know. Many of your relatives are bent in all kinds of strange contortions due to the wind, being broken in storms and then growing from what was left; remarkable bravery, I must say. You too, have a rather precarious position next to the sand [pit], with half of your roots, or what is left of them, right in mid-air. The branches that I sit on have reached far out on the slope to counterbalance that, I suppose. I came here before, last week, as you might remember, and tried to pose with your roots, creating a small video that I call “On the Edge”. But that is another story. My concern now is this act of writing, of “performing writing for camera” on one hand and of addressing you as a tree with a letter on the other. Usually letters are written to those who are absent, not to those present, of course. Somehow it feels easier to address you in writing than through speech, though, probably because formulating or articulating my thoughts into words could make them somehow “clearer” for you to discern, This attempt at addressing you, however, is a result of various attempts at performing with trees, beginning with speaking “as” trees in a series of site-specific monologues called Trees Talk, using mp3 players with brief texts spoken as if by the trees and hanging them on the branches of those trees together with earphones for passers-by to listen to. That made the tree like a puppet to hang stories on, not a very satisfactory solution. By addressing you in writing I am of course also risking a “pathetic fallacy” of sorts, thinking of you as a [kind of] human being. But perhaps that is not so dangerous. As Martin Buber suggested and I-You relationship to other living beings is worth striving for, and as Efraim Kohak has suggested, our manner of speaking matters. – Now I hear some strange sounds, birds… – Nevertheless, it might be that simply spending time together, listening to you rather than addressing you, would be a more appropriate form of conversation. Anyway, my time is up, and I want to thank you for this moment together, for your friendliness, patience and generosity, and wish you all the best for the coming winter!