Returning to Stockholm after a break of one and a half years I noticed the tree planted at the entrance of the tunnel in David Bagare gatan -street, in the place where they had cut down the linden tree soon after my move into the small flat nearby. I remember being sad when the small linden tree was felled, apparently for no reason. And now, when I saw a new tree in its place I immediately thought of it as ”a good sign”. For what exactly, is another matter… To my delight I noticed it was a ginkgo, or maidenhair tree, an ancient tree, almost a living fossil and a medicinal plant as well. I have seen one growing next to the National Library in the nearby Humlegården Park, so I could recognise the leaves. Then, about two weeks ago, I had an idea to practice “becoming tree” or the two-legged tree pose next to it. The place is often full of people so I abandoned the thought and planned to find a small tree in Humlegården to pose with, in the manner I did with the apple tree in Eckerö, where my head and arms were hidden in and by the tree. Last night, arriving in Stockholm again, I decided to give it a try. When I began today, however, my camera was behaving strangely; I sometimes accidentally press some button and then cannot return to the ”normal” settings. And that happened today. After quite some time with trial and error I finally selected some alternative that brought the camera ”back to its senses”, and I could make a small test image:
And yes, I also made a full session with twenty one breaths, albeot in a position in front of the tree rather than next to it. (See first image.) For a documentation of the process in still images, see the page devoted to this series with the gingko tree, here. The title ”Becoming Ginkgo” is a working title, and it might be too ambitious or arrogant. Perhaps ”Wannabe Ginkgo” would be more appropriate?
As part of my attempts at recording my encounters with a small ash tree growing near the former Post Quay in Eckerö I have used several of my old strategies or methods. They are all documented on one page in the Research Catalogue, in the order I made them, here.
One such method or technique is creating a rough time-lapse video for a day by repeating the same action and the same framing of the image every hour or every other hour, like I did this time. I decided to sit and write next to the ash from sunrise to sunset on Thursday 22 July 2021, which meant starting at 5 am and ending at 11 pm, after sunset, actually. I wrote in Swedish, by hand in a small notebook, thus spending quite some time transcribing the text, and then recording it. I tried to do it next to the house, by the wall, protected from the wind, but was not happy with the sound and decided to return to the same place on the shore, and sat there, in the afternoon on the 24 July at 2 pm, reading all the sessions in one go.
After editing the video into a long version with the sessions in full, a brief version with 50 to 60 seconds of each session (with some extra time in the beginning and at the end) the next job was to add the recorded text as a voice-over and adjust the length of the video clips accordlingly. And then, the problem with the language returned – obviously English subtitles were needed. Translating the texts into English took some time, and when that was done I added them as text scrolls on each clip. Unfortunately, I had read my notes so quickly that the scroll is hard to follow at times, especially in some of the morning sessions where there is too much light and the text is difficult to discern. The texts, the orignal Swedish as well as my partly clumsy English translation are available on the same page, here. In include here below the translation of the text from the first and the last session, to give an idea:
Eckerö Post Quay 22.7.2021 5 am in the morning, or 4.59 to be exact. Time to begin the day with you, dear ash tree, at sunrise. I shall sit with you every other hour and follow how the light changes, how the wind shifts or not, how people come and go. And how you are doing standing where you do. I have posed with you for the camera several times and thought I would now try out this diary form to see if I could learn something new of you, from you, with you in this way. I hope you do not mind and remain as benevolent and generous as before. Behind you I can see the horizon is already turning orange, although the sun is behind the trees. The wind blows from southwest, from the sea, the day begins with waves lapping and silence. A good morning for you as well, I suppose. Thus, simply: Good morning!
It is eleven pm, almost half an hour past sunset, although the sky and the sea still shine with a pale violet shimmer. The Eckerö ferry from Grisslehamn has arrived, although now most of the cars have already driven past, peace returns. A strange bird sounds behind me, and there are still two cars on the quay, all else is calm. – I looked at the recorded material and was surprised of the small abrupt displacements of the images in the afternoon – obviously I have been careless while placing the camera. Otherwise, the material looked fine. The proportions between the tree, or you, and the human, or me, are quite acceptable. I look very small on the rock next to you, although you are rather small for a tree. How things look in the image and how they appear in reality are two very different things. The same goes for the experience of coming to sit next to you every other hour for a day and trying to write to you, with you – that is something else than what can be seen in the image, and also the effect, feeling and mood created by the images and by the video formed of them. If I will add this text that I am writing, if I for instance read it and record it and attach it as a voice-over to the video, it will change everything again. Time will tell. Now I simply want to say goodbye at least for tonight and thank you for our collaboration during the day. I don’t know if you experienced it as a collaboration or anything at all. For me, however, it has been important to sit here next to you. And I think I will remember this day for a long time –regardless whether I find something worth pondering in these notes. Thus, simply: Thank you. And Good Night!
Due to the pandemic and travel restrictions as well as the previously alarming covid-situation in Stockholm (lately the so-called incidence has been no worse or even better than in Helsinki) I have not visited my second home there since January 2020. At that time, before my ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency in Johannesburg, I kick-started this project – “Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees” – by initiating a pen pal relationship with a small pine tree on Hundudden in Stockholm. The first three weekly sessions and letters (in Swedish) are recorded on the RC, here:
And now, a few days ago, a fourth one was finally added to them. The letter I wrote as farewell – in Swedish, too – is inserted on the same page with the previous letters, here.
When travelling to Stockholm via Grisslehamn, from Eckerö, where I am enjoying a residency in the historical Post and Customs House during the month of July, I was not sure whether I should carry my camera with me. My main reason for visiting was fetching some hard drives and books, trying to rescue what was left of my many houseplants and cleaning the small flat after one and a half years of neglect. After the trip I realise that taking leave of the pine on Hundudden and closing that ill-fated part of the project, was actually most important, and made it possible for me to think of returning to Stockholm with new plans and ideas. It was also great to see that the pine was fine, unlike the poor birch next to it, which had completely dried out and probably died in the drought.
By saying farewell to the small pine on Hundudden I am by no means abandoning pines in general, on the contrary. I am slowly developing a project with the working title “Talar med tallar” or Talking with Pines. One option for a motto could be a quote from Anna Tsing: “If you ever wanted to be impressed by the historical force of plants, you might do well to start with pines.” (Tsing 2015, 169).
For the month of July I have the superb privilege of staying in the newly renovated residency in the historical building of Eckerö Post and Customs House on Eckerö Island. Living in this historical environment is a paradoxical mixture of peace and quite, bordering on isolation, and a tourist attraction occupied by a constant flow of visitors during part of the day, located within or next to a summer paradise, nevertheless feeling serene and even austere despite the luxurious facilities. I am still overwhelmed by this experience, arriving only a few days ago, and immediately choosing two trees on the premises to perform with. On the one hand I chose one of the two maple trees in the yard, the one on the right being the more inviting, perhaps because being further away from the cafeteria, and with plenty of space next to the tree. And on the other hand I chose the apple tree in front of the building, hidden behind a hedge of lilacs and small enough to be included in the image almost in full. I really wanted to show at least parts of the building in the background, too.
After two easy mornings, or rather days, because I have made the images around noon, a surprise awaited me on Sunday evening; the white bench to the right of the maple tree had been relocated to the left of the tree, exactly where I used to stand, hm. I realized there was still enough space for me between the bench and the tree and decided to enjoy the surprise rather than to be annoyed or try to move the bench back. When I opened the door and stepped out with my camera today a new surprise awaited me; an elderly couple – well, my age probably, – was sitting on the bench. I decided to begin with the apple tree and hope that they would move away by themselves, but no, they did not. So, instead of waiting a few hours I bluntly went up to them, placed my camera tripod in front of them and asked if they would mind being in the image or alternatively leave the bench for a moment. They chose to move to another bench, and I completed the image, standing, not exactly in the same spot as before, but close enough.
During these three days I have noticed that my balancing skills have clearly deteriorated for lack of practice, or then my shoes are too soft, not supporting my ankles, or then the spots on the ground are somehow uneven. Be that as it may, I have difficulties in standing on my toes for the duration of twenty one breaths, even if I lower my heels almost to the ground. Hopefully my balancing skills will improve through practice over the coming month…
Many coincidences resulted in the opportunity to visit Örö again during an extended midsummer weekend 25-29 June, the most important of them being the Öres summer exhibition. My contribution to the exhibition consists of several parts, and my main task now was to organise the participatory performance “Swinging in a Pine” (working title) on Midsummer day 26 June at 3 pm. Hanging a small swing in one of the pines in the hotel area I planned to video record the visitors willing to swing there. All in all 19 people accepted the invitation, and now the next stage is to edit the video in such a manner that the movement continues while the swingers change. When ready the video will be visible on the Research Cataloge, here, and hopefully also on the Öres exhibition pages, probably here. Later, in the beginning of September, I will try to project the video back on the pine and swing synchronised with the people swinging on video. This is a technique I have experimented with on several occasions a few years back, and also described the process in an article in a book which is unfortunately not open access. (“Process as Performance or Variations of Swinging”. In Hetty Blades & Emma Meehan (eds.) Performing Process: Sharing Dance and Choreographic Practice. Intellect Books. 2018, pp 99-118.)
Besides for this performance I also came to install the triptych “On the Edge I-III”, based on still-images from the video, which is part of the online exhibition (see here), created during my Öres residency on the island in November 2020. The triptych could join the exhibition only now, a few days after the opening, because it was on display in the exhibition “How to do things with performance: epilogue” in Hietsu Paviljonki between 23-24 June as part of the University of the Arts Helsinki Research Pavillion #4.
After carrying the works from Helsinki to Örö by public transport, via Turku, I managed to find the space, which was assigned to me in the barrack near the residency house, thanks to the orange sign or name tag left in the room. After some experiments and attempts at placing the triptych in its planned order, I opted for a site-specific solution. The images fitted perfectly into the wooden shelf in the room, and I and III could be placed there. The middle part was placed on the opposite wall, visible from the door, to help people find the work.
Besides these tasks directly related to the exhibition, I alsohad the opportunity to continue my private performances, on the one hand with “the pine next door”, which I began in January 2021, holding hands with one of the two pines growing next to each other daily, every day when I am on the island. And on the other hand my talks with the pine on the shore, recording the fourth “Tala om det för tallen” (Tell it to the Pine), which is already transcribed and edited, available online. Both these recurring performances are documented on the same page, here.
The island is very different in summer time, especially when full of visitors, who nevertheless merged surprisingly well into the surroundings. The party people were probably staying in the harbour and the bar there, and the ones walking or bicycling around the island were here exactly because they appreciate the peace and silence of the place. Some of them might even be interested in finding the well signposted artworks among the army remains. The feeling of summer paradise is nevertheless overwhelming, and I do not feel like looking for new pine trees to perform with, not now. One reason might simply be that I have encountered quite a few of them already. But, there is no lack of more pine trees to meet, to sit on, to talk to, to holds hands with, or simply to admire on this island…
My two weeks in an Ars Bioarctica residency at the biological station in Kilpisjärvi in the very north of Finland, are coming to an end, and it is time to summarise what I have been up to or tried to do here. My plan was to visit the birches on the tree line here and perhaps record a day and night with a mountain birch, and that I have done. More specifically I have created three kinds of material.
First of all I recreated some of the works I did when I visited this place seven years ago, as described in a blog post here. The day and night with a mountain birch described in the previous blog post, here, and documented on the Research Catalogue (RC) here, is a further development of those recreations.
Secondly, I have created a time lapse work, recording one session sitting on a birch below the station every morning and evening between 2 and 13 June. I have listened to the surrounding sounds together with the tree, as described in my first blog post, here, and documented on the RC, here, and finally also written a letter to the tree. Besides this time-lapse work I have also made some single sessions with other birches in the same area, documented on the same page.
And thirdly, I have performed or posed with various birches up on the tree line, on the slopes of Saana fell and in the area between Saana and Jeahkas fell. There I wrote a letter to a birch growing next to a brook, documented on the same page, here.
Thus I have material for at least the following works: Day and Night with a Mountain Birch (already edited), Listening with Mountain Birches (working title), which is a time-lapse video of two weeks from the shore, two letters to birches that could be called Dear Mountain Birch and Dearest Mountain Birch, and quite a lot of material, probably for several works with the working title On the Tree Line. And then the amount of material related to but differing from the time-lapse from the shore. Well, not bad for two weeks, I would say. Whether the material that I have produced will result in anything worthwhile in the long run remains to be seen. At least I have something to work on.
Beginning with the letters, I tried to record them in my room today; unhappy with the acoustics I tried to record them on site, and returned to the trees with a microphone and the transcribed text on an iPad. The first letter was addressed to a mountain birch on the tree line, next to a small brook.
Dear Mountain Birch, thank you for allowing me to sit on the dead part of your trunk, the old part of you, here by the spring brook gushing into a small temporary lake in front of me. I chose you partly because of the sound of the brook, which is inspiring and lively, somehow invigorating by its constant movement. Another reason was that you were so clearly divided in parts. The old dead, or at least seemingly dead trunk lying on the ground and then the strong young fresh new trunk growing straight up, with its bright green leaves. We are here a little below the tree line I guess, or actually on the tree line but in the part where there are more trees than a few meters further up on the slope of Saana, where they are sparser, smaller and with more distance between them. I thought it would be easier to find an individual tree to address there, but although each one of the tiny small birches were fascinating in their own right, I did not feel invited to write to them, like here with you. This setting is more protected, of course, but I also feel that you are a better representative of your kin, or your family here, as part of a collective, rather than the ones higher up on the slope. I should also explain that I am sitting here on the western slopes of Saana, or I am actually not sure if this is not really the slope of the other mountain, Jeahkas, which I probably cannot spell correctly. In any case this is the high north, very near the Norwegian border, in the thumb of Finland and in the heartlands of Sapmi or sami country. There are reindeers walking everywhere and although the village is full of tourists from the southern part of Finland or then from Norway, in the north or west, it is important to acknowledge that I am a visitor and an outsider in this place, a recipient of the hospitality of the Sami people, and of the mountains and their representatives, today especially you, the mountain birches. Unlike the birches further south, you seem more like shrubs, because you often have several slender trunks from the same root. And you often bend in strange contortions, because of the wind or the weight of the snow or for some other reason. So, actually you are a good example of the difficulty of thinking of trees as individuals with distinct borders, and although that is exactly what I am trying to do, you force me to acknowledge that it is not really possible, at least not in your case. In many places coniferous trees, like pine trees or spruces, are the last ones to grow on the tree line up on the mountains. Here, however, the pines continue only about half-way into the ”arm” of Finland, and spruces give up even before that, and it is you, the small mountain birches that will climb up on the slopes and create the tree line. There are some small groups of spruces or pines in the area, but I hear that they are planted. You are the only native or indigenous trees and superbly important for all or most forms of life in this area, including humans, at least in the traditional ways of life. To be honest, I do not know so much about you, but some details are described on the sign boards marking the nature path [trail], like the dark brown lichen that grow on your trunks. One can read the level of the snow by their placement, because they grow only above snow level. I wonder what the greenish-yellowish lichen that grow further down on your trunk are called. At least further down, near the lake, they grow in profusion, and shimmer as if in a neon color in the evening or morning light, which here, this time of year, resembles afternoon light further south, because the sun does not set, of course. It hides behind the mountain, viewed from the village. Here, high on the slopes it shines all through the night, I suppose. – There, a raindrop falling in the meltwater lake, I can feel them on my head as well. Perhaps there will be a rainfall soon, or then it will remain a drizzle. In any case it might be a good idea to end this letter, before all the writing is washed away by raindrops. So, thank you for your hospitality, generosity and patience. And all the best for the future!
The second letter was written to the birch I have visited daily on the shore:
Dearest Mountain Birch, I guess it is about time to try to explain to you what I have been doing, sitting here on your bent branch every morning and evening for almost two weeks. It is actually rather rude of me to do that without asking for your approval or consent or any kind of permission, but I did not know how to approach you in order to ask for your consent, and in many cases I usually choose to “just do it” rather than ask for permission, which often makes things unnecessarily complicated. I nevertheless sincerely hope that I did not offend you by my behavior, especially since I plan to continue with it for a few more days. I chose you of all the birches growing near or below the biological station because you live here on a small hill right by the lake, and have a beautiful view, on the shore. I did not realize that the lake functions like a cooler, so you and your immediate family here below are among the latest to grow out your leaves. Now, you too, have turned green and “dressed up” in small fresh leaves. This time of year, there is no real dusk or dawn, except in the middle of the night, perhaps, because we are here in the shadow of Saana fellm so visiting you in the mornings and evenings is more of a change in the direction of the light, not its amount. Right now, the sky is clouded, though, so those usual shifts of light and shadow do not apply. And I am dressed in my ordinary grey clothes rather than my black “performance” outfit. When I say I have been visiting you that is not completely correct, because I have come down to sit on you and with you mainly in order to listen to the surrounding sounds. Now, for example, I can hear some birds, but on many occasions the traffic on the road between the mountain and the lake provides most of the sounds. Especially the huge trucks travelling to the Norwegian border can be heard from far away when approaching. I wonder what they transport, and where? Perhaps there is a harbor in Tromsø, or something. Besides listening to the sounds with you I often count my breaths slowly, trying to wind down and become present in the moment with you. Twenty-one breaths are my usual duration, a way of keeping track of time, approximately. That is of course a very brief instant in your temporal experience. Although birches do not live longer than 100 or 150 years, that is way more than most humans. And here, where the shift in light conditions is so extreme, with a long night-time, the winter, and a long day, the summer, rather than the constant fluctuation, your sense of time must be different, too. – I actually learnt a lot about your way of life from a biologist who kindly gave me a private lecture today. She explained, among other things, that there are two types of birch woods here, the maritime and the continental ones, and the whole ecosystem in them is different, as well as the form of the birches. Here, obviously, we are in the “maritime” type of wood, with blueberry shrubs [twigs] on the ground and the trunks of the birches relatively straight and singular – well, most of you are bent to some degree, but not as twisted and divided as the ones higher up on the slopes. The term “maritime” refers to the way the birch woods look on the Norwegian side, and even though Lake Kilpis is a lake, of course, the northwesterly winds come from the Arctic ocean, which is actually not that far from here, and bring in sea air. In both habitats one can distinguish the height of the snow from your trunks, because the dark brown lichen that decorate them do not like to live below snow level. That I learned already from the sign board on the nature path [trail]. Why some of you have a completely white bark while others are pale grey, I do not know, and it might be just a coincidence. There are two types of birches that have hybridized, the dwarf ones and the downy birches, and you can see the difference in the autumn, because the dwarf ones turn read rather than orange yellow. I realize I would really like to come and spend some time with you in the autumn, too, and to listen to the sounds of autumn together with you, like we now have listened to the sounds of spring. I want to thank you for your hospitality and generosity and sincerely hope that I have not been too much of a disturbance for you. I hope you can somehow sense my gratitude and appreciation, and I wish you all the best for the coming summer. Let us hope it will be a peaceful, invigorating and productive time for you. Take care! AA.
Sunday 6th June 2021 3.45 pm. I did not plan to repeat this image, I only wanted to make an experiment to improve the test I did yesterday, when revisiting the site where I performed Day and Night with Malla on June 7-8 2014. At that time I was sitting on the rock looking at Malla Fell, and the small mountain birches on the shore are barely visible to the right. By turning the camera just a little they would gain more prominence, but standing next to the birch yesterday I was too tall and dominating in the image. Therefore I wanted to try once more, today, placing the camera a little further away. After some attempts – yes, I did some tests first – I settled on a pose with the smaller birch. And while standing there, looking at Malla, I realized I could actually repeat this image for a day and night, perhaps every second hour to make it easier. They have promised rain for tomorrow, but that would be only at the end…
5.45 pm. Complete silence, no wind, no dogs, no trafic on the road, not even birds. Malla is reflected in the lake, although not visible for the camera. Some kind of insect crawls on my cheek; I resist the impulse to brush it away, and to move my feet on the rock, breathing deeply, twenty one breaths, approximately – to keep the time. When I finish I notice that the camera had moved slightly to the right compared to the first session, despite the fact that I left the tripod on the shore. The framing is actually better this way…
7.45 pm. The light is strong, like a hot summer afternoon, although it is almost eight in the evening. And it is really hot now. The sun will not set here before midnight, or rather hide behind Saana Fell. And up there one could probably watch the sun all through the night. The ice on the lake is gone near the shore, and the water is clear, deep blue in the sun. Some small sounds of birds are audible in the silence now, and an occasional car passed by later on, when I returned to the house.
9.45 pm. The sun is now right above Malla Fell, more or less blinding the camera. And there is a gentle breeze, moving the surface of the lake. In the distance I can hear the cowbells of the reindeers, and a bird which cries with strange wailing sounds. The mountain birches up on the slopes and nearer the house are already shifting into a pale green, the leaves ready to burst any minute. By the lake, where the ice keeps the air cooler, they are slower.
11.45 pm. The midnight sun shines bright above the horizon in northwest, but it is no longer warm. The soft greenish hue of the mountain birches turns orange in its pinkish light. The air is chilly and the surface of the lake is freezing, now again completely still. According the weather report it should be 11 degrees celsius, and the lowest to be expected tonight is around 7 degrees. The sun is supposed to set at midnight, very soon, and rise again at 2 am, behind Saana Fell. These nightless nights are strange, on the one hand weird and on the other hand also magic…
1.45 am. The sun hides behind Saana, visible only as a pale glow in the north and northwest. The northern slope of Malla is illuminated in a pale pink, as are the low mountains on the southern side of the lake, in Sweden. The air feels chilly, and the surface of the lake is frozen at the shore. Some birds are awake with faint cries every now and then. This is as “dark” as it will get, I suppose.
3.45 am. The sun shines bright on the mountains across the lake, and one can see the contour of Saana as a shadow on the shore. Here, in the shadow of Saana there is more light as well, but it feels like a cloudy day, despite the cloudless sky. And no mist, as in some mornings before. The first truck heading towards the Norwegian border is audible from afar amidst occasional birds. And then another one, finally passing the biological station when I return from the shore.
5.45 am. Malla Fell is bathing in light, but the part of the lake that served as its mirror is now mostly frozen and no longer reflects its splendour. It seems to be colder despite the increasing light. No mist this morning, but some clouds from the west. The mountain birches repeat the colours of the mountains in reverse – rather than dark brown with patches of white, their slender trunks are white with patches of dark brown lichen. The birch I am holding on to feels strong, although it reacts to my slightest movement, swaying.
7.45 am. Now the sun shines high above the top of Saana Fell in the northeast. And it feels warm, too, despite being diluted by a thin cloud cover. The ice on the lake, however, has not dissolved, not yet. The traffic on the road is now more or less constant, or rather constantly audible in the distance, with other cars among the trucks. The bird sounds are more or less constant as well, most of them unfamiliar to me. And humans are beginning to move in the yard, a new day has clearly begun.
9.45 am. Warm sun, the clouds are fluffy shreds, more compact only in the south on the other side of the lake. The frost on the water is still there, covering large parts that were open last night. The leaves on the mountain birches no more than twenty meters up on the slopes are now bursting open, but the buds of the ones by the shore are still biding there time. The lake is a giant cooler. When I came down to the shore an off-white reindeer was lying on the path, in the only snow spot left on the grassy slope. Did it prefer the cool cushion of snow, or was it only looking for a place to merge with the surroundings?
11.45 am. The clouds gather, some of them are grey; there might be rain later today, as forecasted. Here the weather changes quickly, but these clouds still look mainly benign. And the sun is warm despite the clouds, the ice cover on the open parts of the lake near the shore is gone now. It is completely still, the mirror is perfect. There is no traffic either, perhaps the truck drivers are taking a lunch break. A crow was jumping on the ice, this time a familiar bird.
1.45 pm. The day turned into a grey one, not uniformly grey, though, because the sun appears briefly every now and then. Mostly the cloudy sky spreads a diffuse pale grey light. I’m standing next to the mountain birch, or a group of them, and look at all the other shrubs around. There are junipers on the ground, and some sort of willow creeping along the rock in front of me, which seems to turn greener by the hour. The turfs of yellow grass have small fresh leaves coming up in their midst. And of course there are various types of mosses and familiar shrubs like cowberry twigs and crowberry twigs, too. The birches are clearly not alone…
3.45 pm. So, here comes the rain, or rather a soft drizzle – the day and night ends as forecasted, although the drops are so few and far between that they are barely visible on the surface of the lake. The sky is grey now, there might me more rain, but it does not feel like a storm coming up. They are not uncommon here, I remember. When I look at the dark brown slopes of Malla Fell, they seem almost to have a hint of olive, a greenish hue, thanks to the birches bringing out their leaves soon. I wonder what the slopes look like in the autumn when they turn orange… But grey is the colour for now, many shades of grey, as they say…
The rest of the images are available on the Research Catalogue, here
After three days at the biological station in Kilpisjärvi, up in the high north, in the “thumb” of Finland, in a two-week Ars Bioarctica residency, I have already settled into a routine, visiting a mountain birch near the shore of Lake Kilpis below the small Wallgren house where I stay. I decided to make one visit mornings and evenings, to get the maximum shifts in light. I never seem to be out early or late enough, though, because the sun sets past midnight and rises before 2 am. The camera tripod is standing there all the time, in order to make it easier to keep the framing constant.
Finding the right mountain birch was not so easy, although it is hard to know what “right” means in this case. The birches form an almost uniform thicket along the shore of the lake and on the lower slopes of Saana fell. Many of them are bent in such manner that one can easily sit on them, although not all of them are strong enough for that. When making a time-lapse video the framing is important, because you cannot change it once you have started, and it is irritating to be forced to repeat the “wrong” image if it feels slightly off. So I tried to adjust the framing carefully by testing first:
Leaving the camera tripod on site means, that I cannot use it for other images. At first I thought this one repeated image would be enough, perhaps augmented with a full day and night every hour or every second hour, as planned. But soon I realized I wanted to play around with my camera a little bit, so I thought of hanging the camera from a branch in case I want to enter the image myself. I experimented with placing the camera on a rock, and that is of course possible. Here are the first examples with the camera balancing on a rock:
The mountain birches are a special form of dawny birches (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii), I learned immediately on arriving. They are now slowly awakening in the amazing heatwave, 20 degrees celsius, despite the cooling effect of the ice on the lake. I hope to witness the explosion of the leaves during these two weeks, although the birches near the shore might be the last to burst. Still-images of each session recorded on video are updated daily here…
Sitting on the lowest branch of the birch on the hill on Harakka Island is not as easy as I expected. In May I spent two weeks gallery sitting for my exhibition The Tree Calendar in the Telegraph Gallery and waited until the very last day to go and record an image of the branch – without me sitting on it though. Why? Because the site was occupied by a goose couple who was nesting next to it. With a common eider that would have been no problem, they sit calmly even when you come fairly near them. But the goose guys are really aggressive, protecting the hen sitting on the eggs, or at least pretending to do so, by attacking everybody who tries to come near. I waited and hoped that the chicks would hatch out and start moving, but no. Today, on the last day of the exhibition, and the next to last day of the month, I decided I would have to accept the situation and record an image of the branch and the geese:
Even that simple endeavour produced quite a lot of drama, because there was an egg in the seagull’s nest next to the small oak where I was to place the camera tripod. I had an umbrella to cover my head and after a while the seagulls calmed down a little bit. And thus there was no actual battle, only threats, nor any casualties, luckily.
This time of year the birds have taken over the island, and the siege will continue until midsummer, approximately. The geese are worst before the chicks hatch; when they can move the whole family is often slowly giving way to humans if you give them the time to do so. The seagulls, on the other hand are more relaxed when they sit in the nest, and trust that people won’t step on them. When the chicks are out, they are almost impossible to notice on the ground and the parents protect them with ear-piercing shrieks as soon as you come anywhere near. And these are the nests near the houses and the path to the pier. On the rocks there are other birds, but those I do not need to disturb now. – The series of monthly images can be viewed on the RC, here.
Almost by accident I noticed that the tourist boat traffic to Bengtskär lighthouse and also to Örö Island had commenced, which meant that there were other options than visits from Wednesday to Wednesday with the ferry. Happy, I grabbed the chance to spend a week from Sunday to Sunday with the pines on Örö. Now, when the week is over I can note, with some satisfaction, that I did what I planned to do, and more. I visited “the pine next door”, which I used to pose with daily, holding on to its branch, during my visits in January and February earlier this year. And I went to see the pine on the beach and recorded my attempt at talking to it, speaking with it, in Tala om det för tallen 3 (Tell it to the Pine 3). The transcript of my Swedish words I added to my private blog, here.
I also made quite a few new acquaintances, like the fallen pine tree on the shore that has persevered and insists on growing, and also some trees that invited me to create diptychs, pairs of images, like the two small pines that seemed to be in conversation, and which I had not noticed before. I also posed with a pine bent in the form of a gate at the shore, which probably caught my eye because I happened to approach it from an other angle, and as befits a gate, recorded the pose from both sides.
The amount of morels, which looked like pine cones in the sand at first, was so impressive that I created a small video sitting on two pine stumps among them. Unfortunately you cannot see much of the mushrooms, and you might also wonder whether the stumps really count as unremarkable trees to encounter.
During the last days of my stay I looked for suitable pine trees to swing in, planning for a participatory performance that will possibly take place as part of the Öres exhibition later this summer. The first swinging session I recorded with a pine next to the road, a site unsuitable for any collective event, mostly for myself, and in honour of Beckett and his beautiful monologue, calling it Swinging in a Pine – Örö Rockaby(e).
The two other pines I tried swinging in are located on more suitable sites; the first one close to the residency house, and the second – probably the easiest option to have voluntary participants – near the barracks, the hotel and the restaurant.
Working on the island now, when the season is beginning and there are plenty of people around, has been a very different experience compared to having the place almost for oneself in the winter. And living in a hostel, at times crowded with people, makes concentrating on work more complicated. There are advantages, too, of course, like restaurant services, and the transport that made it possible for me to come here in the first place. And the main reason for my visit, the pine trees, although sometimes looking different in another light and surrounding atmosphere, are nevertheless staying almost the same. Or rather, they are transforming slowly enough for my senses to recognise them as familiar, as friends.