Helsinki Trees

To end or not to end?

With the Reclining Pine

My meetings with trees continue on instagram, here, but most of my work these days takes place within the new project Pondering with Pines. Thus, I ask myself should I end the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees or not, and how. If I end actively working with the project, should I still continue with some parts of it like the “video of the week”or the quotes? Reporting back to the Finnish Cultural Foundation for my use of the grant I received in 2021 for the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees prompted me to write a short summary of what I had done, the main points of which I translate here.

The project was a further development of the project Performing with Plants funded by the committee for artistic research at Vetenskapsrådet or the Swedish Research Council in 2018-2019, where I already focused on trees. The day spent with the ancient, 9950 year old (!) spruce tree Old Tjikko on Fulufjället mountain in Dalarna in Sweden in May 2019 served as an impulse for this new project. The video Day with Old Tjikko was the only older work shown in the exhibition Meetings with Spruces and Birches in Gallery Forum Box in February 2022, where some of the works made during the project were displayed. In general I structured the project with the help of the residencies involved.

The project was originally planned as a one year sequel bit soon turned into a two-year project and in some sense it still continues, although I decided to restrict gathering new material to the end of 2021. The first year of the project (2020) I was applying for two professorships (which I did not get) and therefore used the SKR grant only the following year (2021). The year 2020 began with an ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency in Johannesburg, which was interrupted due to the covid pandemic. My work there was later documented in the publication Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees in Johannesburg with Environs. That year I continued my work in Finland, including the Mustarinda residency in September and the Öres residency in November.

The second year, the grant year (2021) included some work in residencies as well, in Hailuoto in April, in Kilpisjärvi in June, in Eckerö in July and in Örö again in the fall. This project blog is actually structured according the residencies, where I could meet a variety of different local trees. Additionally the project has its own instagram account Meetings with Trees, where I have recorded short notes on video clips of individual trees. The main material of my performances with trees as well as most of the videos I have made are publicly displayed in the project archive on the Research Catalogue platform, which I am am continuously completing with details of works shown etc. In 2022 a book called Performing and Thinking with Trees, where I collect some of my experiences from both projects will be published by the Academy of Fine Arts at University of the Arts Helsinki.

Although I have decided to end the project at the end of 2021, that is, I have not gathered any new video material after that, the project continues in the form of exhibitions, publications, workshops and presentations. I especially hope to be able to present some of the works created with the pine trees in Örö in a separate exhibition. Moreover, I have started a new project Pondering with Pines, where I use and develop further some of the experiences from meetings with trees.


Meetings with Spruces and Birches

Day with Old Tjikko 1 (2019)

The video Day with Old Tjikko 1 from 2019 and quite a few videos created during a residency in Mustarinda in September 2020 are now displayed in an exhibition called Meetings with Spruces and Birches in gallery Forum Box (11.2.-6.3.2022). The gallery is divided among three artists, and I have my works upstairs in ’parvi’ (the ‘loft’) which is quite suitable for video works. Besides that I have one work, Dear Deceased, which consists of a letter to a dead spruce, on display downstairs in Mediabox at the same time. I wanted to show Old Tjikko and thought the works from Mustarinda old growth forest would be suitable companions. Here below I have chosen a still image to represent each video, to show something about the world created in the space.

There are two large projections at both ends of the rectangular hall, with Old Tjikko to the left and two split screen videos, one after the other, of the Paljakka spruce near Mustarinda at the other end of the space, to the right. The rest of the videos are displayed on small screens, with the sound in headphones for the three of them that have spoken text. Thus, the effect is rather different than listing all the works in the same size. More information about the exhibition on Forum Box pages here and later in the archive here. Information about the work in Mediabox here, and later in the archive here.

Besides Day with Old Tjikko 1 2019, HD 16:9, 17 min 45 sec. (see image above) the following works are included in the exhibition (from left to right):

Day with a Bog Birch (with text) 2020, HD 16:9, 20 min. (text in English)
Standing with a Bog Birch 2020, HD 16:9, 20 min
The Reclining Birch 2020, HD 16:9, 16 min 41 sec
The Daily Birch (September in Mustarinda) – brief 2020, HD 16:9, 14 min 10 sec
Looking at the Spruce 1& 2 2020, HD 16:9, 19 min 12 sec
With the Spruce in Paljakka III mix 2020, HD 16:9, 5 min
Rakas Kuusi – Dear Spruce 2020, HD 16:9, 5 min 47 sec (text in Finnish, English subtitles)
Kära Björk – Dear Birch 2020, HD 16:9, 5 min 50 sec (text in Swedish, English subtitles)

In Mediaboxi, a small darkened space for showing one video work, the following video as a large projection complements the selection:

Dear Deceased (with text) 2020, HD 16:9, 6 min 26 sec (text in English)

When I receive images of the space from the gallery, I will add them here… and here they are, photographed by Emilia Pennanen:


New Beginnings

I had an idea that the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees would be completed by the end of 2021, but as often happens, that was of course not the case. There are publications in midair looking for their proper home and there will be an exhibition with some of the works in gallery Forum Box in February this year and so on. But I nevertheless thought I would stop gathering new material and look at how best to display and disseminate the works I have already made. That said, I nevertheless began some new projects, which could be understood as some sort of sequels or even results.

One is the three-lingual podcast series on soundcloud, Talking with Trees – Puhetta Puille – Talar med Träd (here), where I have published seven episodes in Swedish and seven episodes in Finnish, but nothing in English, so far. The Swedish ones are based on the soundtracks of the videos Tala om det för Tallen 1-7 created with a pine tree in Örö during 2021 (on the RC here). The Finnish ones are based on the seven letters to the spruce on Harakka Island, Dear Spruce – Kuusi Hyvä 1-7 , made in the spring and summer 2020 and recently shown in the summer exhibition on the island (on the RC here).

Another is the project Pondering with Pines – Miettii mäntyjen kanssa – Funderar med furor which I really don’t know that much about, yet, but which I am creating a new blog for, here, and a new archive on the RC as well, here. So far I have instigated a “pondering” relationship with a pine in Kaivopuisto Park in Helsinki and with a pine in Nobelparken in Stockholm. And I am recording some pines on tumblr, too (here). What else will happen, remains to be seen.

Harakka Helsinki

Next to Last Time on the Lowest Branch

Visiting Harakka Island for the first time this month, I combined transporting some things to and from there with the joint effort of taking up three of the boats, my old Korento (dragonfly) among them, and recording the last image in the series Year of the Ox – On the lowest branch, of course, which includes one image for each month. Unfortunately the weather was much the same as in November, damp and grey. The landscape with ice and snow from last week had disappeared. There might me more snow coming next week, but I grabbed the chance to have some help from colleagues to get the boat up now, which means that I might not be able to access the island later this month. There might be ice, or then not, and before it is thick enough to walk across safely… who knows…

This was nevertheless the next to last image of this calendar, and I am already wondering, whether I should continue working with a pine on Harakka Island next year, or choose a pine from the mainland, that will be more easily accessible regardless of the weather. And whether there is a point in creating an image once a month, or rather choose some other schedule, or even leave the frequency of the visits more open. Well, there is still time to think about that. Meanwhile, I will edit the video from this year, and upload it on the RC page, here.

Only after returning from Harakka and looking at the material did I realise that this was not the end. As the title suggest, I started at the beginning of the year of the ox, that is, in February 2021, and will therefore have to continue until the end of the year of the ox, which this time happens at the end of January. Thus, one more visit next year – and a chance of snow!

Örö Trees

Farewell to the Pines on Örö

One more trip to visit the pines on Örö, by a lucky coincidence, in November as my first visit to the island last year. These ten days I have payed my respects to my old friends, the pines I began performing with in January this year, see here. First of all I recorded my last talk with the pine on the shore (see image above, and the video with the text spoken in Swedish, here) and I also visited the pine next door, daily (see image below).

Moreover, I encountered two more pines, both on the eastern shore, and recorded brief moments together with them, The Pine by the Beach and The Pine on the Beach, both available here.

Besides these exercises with pines that I always indulge in while visiting the island, I brought with me my old action camera and made some experiments with walking along the Pitkä ikävä road that traverses the island from north to south. These experiments are not really about meetings with trees, but rather about ways of performing landscape, something I tried for the first time in the manmade pinewoods in Nida on the Curonian Spit in 2017, see Walking in Nida. The practice is even less predictable than working with a camera on tripod, because walking with the camera on my forehead I cannot see the image and have no real control of its position. As a complement and contrast to working with pines this walking exercise has been both refreshing and exhausting. I will return to the pines, of course, perhaps some other ones, however, because the pine on the shore that I have been talking with and the pine next door that I have been “holding hands” with were both relationships planned to last only one year. I guess I will return to say hello, however, as soon as I have a chance, because this island has now become an important part of my life.

Stockholm Trees

Practicing with a Weeping Beech

Despite my plan to stick to the trees I am currently meeting more or less regularly until the end of the year (the ginkgo in Stockholm, the birch on Harakka Island and the two pines on Örö) I decided to initiate one more relationship to a tree in Stockholm in order to practice the tree posture in T’ai Chi Chuan, which I learned while participating in a symposium on temporality in artistic research Grenoble. Walking in Humlegården on Halloween looking for possible partners – I wanted the tree to grow nearby – I immediately fell for the huge ”hängbok” or weeping beech, a cultivar of the ordinary beech, which I well remembered from previous strolls. Now, its leaves all reddish brown, letting some light in under its tent-like canopy, it seemed much more approachable than before, when its dark green leaves formed an almost impenetrable dark hut. I took a few snapshots with my phone and decided to return the following day and begin practicing the tree pose with it on the first of November. And that I did, carrying my camera on tripod to the park as soon as I had posed with the ginkgo. With the beech I would not reach upwards towards the sky, on my toes, with the support of the slender trunk in front of me, but try to ground myself and search for power, energy and stability standing with bent knees and reaching with my arms towards the huge trunk in front of me. And in terms of the image, I would not try to show the tree in full or at least as much as possible of it, but rather come closer and let the tree fill most of the image space. Rather than posing with my back to the camera, as an almost unnoticable figure among all bikes and passers-by, I was now posing in profile next to the tree, facing it as an ‘equal’, although tiny, of course, compared to its impressive body. Whether I will keep practicing daily for one week or as often as possible for one month, or irregularly until the end of the year remains to be seen. I will document my power practice with the weeping beech in still images, here, as usual. Now, after only two meetings, I am curious and enthusiastic about this new exercise and my new tree acquaintance.

Örö Trees

Örö Again

With the Dragon Pine (4 min 25 sec.)

Great to have experienced an extra week on Örö now, in the autumn, when the island is quiet and has visitors mainly on the weekends. I came in order to visit “the pine next door” and the pine on the shore that I talk to in Swedish in the the small videos called ”Tala om det för fallen (tell it to the pine)”, both documented on the RC, here. This time I also wanted to find a few more ”wind pines” and perhaps experiment with the artificial insect lights at night. Instead I bumped into a pine I never noticed before, a real dragon pine that I spent some time with already the next day after my arrival. The results of our encounter are uploaded on the RC, here.

I did meet quite a few wind pines, too, and continued with the basic idea of video recording them (and myself sitting on them) from two opposite directions. One afternoon there was a military rehearsal going on, and the silence was suddenly interrupted with the harsh sounds of guns, once during both sessions, actually. See Wind Pine III (Rehearsal) a and b (here). Otherwise I prefer the two last versions, with a more interesting combination of two perspectives. I also made single sessions with some pines that I have looked at repeatedly during my visits, pondering whether I should do something with them, but never tried anything yet. The Dead Pine, which stands by the road to the residency house is a case in point. I remember looking at it when arriving, in the beginning of November 2020, pushing the cart with my luggage towards the south, looking for the house, and noticing the pine. At least one pine with branches that I could climb up on, I thought. Little did I know at that point that the whole island is filled with strangly formed pines, and plenty of ones that really invite you to climb on them. Another pine that I have often looked at is The Pine Aslant. When I recorded the image I was really excited and thought that might be the first good image this week. When I looked at the recording I was slightly disappointed, however, because my posing in the images is not so interesting, the tree lookes better on its own. These attempts can be viewed on a separate page on the RC, Odd pines in Örö.

This was probably my last chance to stay in the residency house this year, although one never knows what happens. There are many people who would gladly stay for a while, if there is a cancellation of some kind, so it is not very likely that I would have another chance. I might make a short visit and stay at the guest house in the hotel area, simply to end the year in winter, to make images of a full year, and to say goodbye to the two pine friends I have spent time with during each visit so far. I did not say goodbye yet, deliberately, because I hope I will be able to return in a month or two, at least once. But for now, the island will slowly adapt to the darkening light and the cooling weather with other visitors, and I will send warm thoughts to the pines from afar…

Örö performances Trees

Performing with a Pine

Performance with a Pine 2.9.2021 9 pm

Or rather many pines? During my five-day visit to Örö, with the main purpose of performing with a pine for a live audience on 2 September at 9 pm, I also performed for camera with several pines, as I usually do on Örö. First of all I visited my old friend, ”the pine next door” daily, including the traveling days Monday and Friday. And I visited the pine on the shore that I speak with or to, and recorded my fifth talk with that pine, “Tala om det för Tallen 5” (tell it to the pine 5), archived here. Interestingly, I met some new pines, too, like ”the Snail Pine” and ”the Wind Pine” as well as sat ”On a Pine among Heather and Grass” and ”On a Pine among Heather and Juniper”. They are all archived on the RC, here. These new acquaintances I posed with for the camera placed in two opposite directions, to get a kind of double perspective, and edited the material into split=screen videos. Not all of the videos are very interesting, although the pines certainly were fascinating. There were many more of them, especially some wind pines that I want to work with when I return.

Swinging in a pine (with people) 26.6.2021 3 pm

These small performances with pines were in some sense a side effect of my main performance, included in the event program of the Öres exhibition, that is, the second part of the participatory swinging performance that took place on Midsummer day at 3 pm . In that performance I invited people to swing in a small swing attached to a pine near the hotel area and later edited a video where the swingers change while the movement continues. A short version of that video is available for view online here and here. Now I projected a longer version of that video onto the same site, on the trunk of the pine and the branches of the near by juniper, and tried to swing synchronised with the people on the video. For the projection to be visible the performance had to take place after sunset. What was planned as a live performance turned out to be an action mainly for the camera again, because the group that was to form the main audience cancelled their booking, probably due to the windy weather. To make matters worse there was a rainfall that same evening, right after I had spread the electricity cables, and set up the projector and my computer, which I managed to cover with my raincoat. Luckily the rain stopped before nine, and I performed gladly my 20 minute performance for and audience of two – and the camera. The recording is actually quite nice, available here and (soon) here. Not to mention the magnificent poster (see below). Based on this experience I nevertheless think I probably should stick to performing for camera in the future, or try to find a context with several performers…

poster for the performance with a pine.
Helsinki Stockholm Trees

Writing to Trees

When speaking about my practice of writing letters to trees the main focus has always been in the encounter with the trees, and besides artistic research, the context has been, the relationships to plants, critical plant studies or posthumanism more broadly. Now, at the Colloquium on Artistic Research in Performing Arts CARPA 7 – Elastic Writing in Artistic Research, the context was writing, and I realized I have not really considered my practice from that perspective. Originally I planned to present the development of the practice from field notes written after each session of performing with a tree or shrub in the day-long time-lapse videos like Sunday with a Pine (2017) on the one hand and the voice-over texts utilising the letter form as a literary device written afterwards, like for the video Year of the Dog in Lill-jansskogen (Sitting in a Pine) (2019) on the other hand, into this practice of writing to the trees next to the trees, which I began with the olive tree in Ulldecona. And I did compile an up-to-date list of all my letters to trees, so far. The Powerpoint presentation as pdf file is available on the RC here. I wanted to show a small video clip, too, and could not decide which one I should choose, especially since most of them were too long. I even considered creating a completely new clip with the plane tree in Humlegården, which I was sitting next to during the pre-conference workshop “Writing to Your Chosen Tree – a workshop”. And then I thought of the possibility of publishing something in the proceedings, if there will be something like that, and decided to do something with the video from Alicante. The letters I wrote to the Australian Banyan trees there, right after my attempts with the olive trees, I have not shown anywhere, although they provided he logo for my project.. The letter to the first one, written in Dear Ficus Macrophylla, was rather brief, which left plenty of space for some added notes. Thus I read the letter as a voice-over, now, one and a half year later, and added another text compiled of various notes as a semi-academic reflection after that. The original video is more than 20 minutes, but this conference-version is limited to 17 minutes. I uploaded it on vimeo, and it is publicly available here.

Dear Ficus Macrophylla, video still
close-up photo of the same tree, used as “logo” for the project.
Harakka Helsinki

On the Artists’ Island

The exhibition Artists’ Island on Harakka Island (10.8.-26.9.2021) is for us an unusually large (31 artists) and professionally prepared (curator Veikko Halmetoja) summer exhibition that spreads out in various locations on the island, and this time also in the main building. More information about the exhibition can be found in the press release, available in English, further down on the main page in Finnish, here.

Poster for the exhibition, image by Osmo Kivimäki

My two contributions are both placed in the main building, and both are made on the island during the summer 2020. The video Dear Spruce – Kuusi Hyvä (41 min.) consists of seven letters to the only spruce on the island, and is shown as a compilation on a small TV-monitor in the library, with the letters read as voice-over narrations, in Finnish. I planned to use headphones to make listening a more concentrated experience, but did not manage to make the connection work. Because of the pandemic the use of headphones was not wise, so I abandoned the idea. Now my voice, not too loud, though, ills the whole library. The english translations of the letters are available in a folder and the video letters are available with English subtitles online, here.

Dear Spruce – Kuusi Hyvä 1-7 (2020) in Harakka Library
Dear Spruce – Kuusi Hyvä 1-7 (2020) in Harakka Library

The other work on display is July with Pine (16 min), which is shown as part of a screening compilation made by Kari Yli-Annala in the auditorium. Originally I imagined this work as a nonstop loop somewhere and the letters, as part of the screening compilation. The letters together are too long, however, and even this video is almost too long for a compilation, despite being the brief version of the work. The full version is 50 min 46 sec, although I doubt that I will ever show that version publicly, the brief version with 30 second clips feels long enough. The sea view opening from the darkened auditorium, as it were, works rather well, though. Some kind of documentation of the process, including notes (in Finnish) written after each recorded session, is available online, here.

July with a Pine (2020) in Harakka auditorium
July with a Pine (2020) in Harakka auditorium

The exhibition spreads into the ammunition cellars and the old telegraph and contains many kinds of work – already the screening compilation is rather multifaceted – and the walls of the main building are covered with paintings, installations and all kinds of images. My contributions are actually rather conventional in this context.The surfaces are cleaned of useless rubbish to let the works shine and the house feels like a magic fantasy world – I almost wish it would always be like this…