Harakka Trees

April on the lowest branch

Year of the Ox – On the Lowest Branch (April)

On the last day of April, almost May Eve, actually, I finally made it to Harakka Island – after nearly a full month in Hailuoto, another island, a very big island in the north. All the material that I made there is gathered on one page, here. I left the residency one day earlier in order to be able to record the calendar image within the correct time frame, and to avoid arriving in the middle of the party – although there might not be so much of a party in the city this year – the parties are all in peoples’ homes. There was one couple planning to celebrate with a fire on the shore on Harakka, and they politely invited me to join, and I politely declined and returned to the mainland as soon as I had recorded my small performance.

The island had assumed its spring appearance; it is completely overtaken by birds. I noticed with horror that there was a nesting seagull sitting on her eggs right where I would place my camera tripod, and expected some high drama. When I approached slowly the couple did not make any noise, however, but slowly walked away, as if directing my attention elsewhere. And due to the fact that I stayed a bit further away, they waited patiently, only emitting slightly worried sounds occasionally, while I was sitting on the birch branch, posing for the camera.

The framing of the image was not exactly the same anyway, because I decided to switch to a new tripod. I bougt myself a new one ages ago, but kept using my old one because it was much smaller and lighter, easier to carry around. One leg was damaged in Hailuoto, and the temporary repair that saved the day there, would not provide a permanent solution, so better to switch now, I thought. And my angels were helping me again, with the help of the wind, adjusting the framing by dropping the camera a little lower right in the beginning – thank you for that.

the offspring in the nest and the parents …

With the Hailuoto Pines

Practicing with a pine in Hailuoto, already for a week, during my residency in Kulttuuritalo Päiväkoti (see here), where I am planning to stay for the whole month of April. Hailuoto, a large island outside Oulu in the Bothnian Bay (see here) is rather far north in Finland, which means that the winter is lingering on. While I am writing this there is a soft snowfall, and the piles of snow along the roads are melting very, very slowly. Nevertheless, spring is approaching. Besides my daily practice with the pine next door, I hope to meet other pines introduced to me by local artists that I have met here. One such pine I have already recorded, Eija’s Pine, which awaits her approval to be uploaded online. See still image here:

I went to see a local celebrity, the Askelin pine, a few days ago, and wrote a small note about my visit on my personal blog (see here), but did not feel any urge to pose or perform with that tree. I would like to find a tree to perform with, or write a letter to, or perhaps even try to interview, in order to use in a “provocation” that I have promised to create for the Pluriversity project (see here). I forgot that the interview with a pine in Örö last autumn, which I thought I could use as an example, was made in Swedish. And to use a language that most people would not understand in Arizona would be a rather useless provocation, I guess. In any case I will be performing as part of the fourth Be-Coming Tree event on 24 April here, see press info:

That performance will take place with my first pine friend, the pine I practice with daily. For the performance I will try to attach a small swing to one of its branches, in order to be able to perform for an hour. Hanging from the branch – as I do in the press photo – for that duration would be too much of challenge, or rather completely impossible for me right now.

Harakka Trees

On the lowest branch again

Year of the Ox – On the Lowest Branch (March)

After several weeks of thaw season, with the ice melting and only a narrow bridge left to walk across to the island on – which I did not have the courage to try, unlike some of my braver colleagues – the sea was now open. There is still plenty of ice on this side of the jetty, which will make for large ice floes blocking the passage at some point, but for now there was no problem. A group of us got a ride across with the caretaker. The idea is to get at least some of the rowing boats to sea today, despite the rainy weather. My main interest to get to the island, however, was to be able to make my image with the birch within the month of March, as planned.

While waiting for the ice to melt I have considered various alternatives to a monthly calendar, like “The Four Seasons”, or better still, “The Seven Seasons”, or something similar. That might become a relevant option, if I have trouble getting to the island for other reasons, such as my coming visit to Hailuoto Island in the north in April, or my stay at the Eckerö Post House in July. That remains to be seen. For now I am done with March.

It was nice meeting the birch after six weeks; I began this calendar on fifteenth of February, in bright sunlight and lots of snow. Today there is a soft drizzle, wind from the south and most of the snow is gone, at least around the birch. A manmade birds’ nest is lying on the ground next to the tree; it was probably covered by snow last month. And finding exactly the same position for the camera tripod was not so easy, because I had no other mark than the branch of the small oak tree, but I guess I managed reasonably well.

My main occupation during this month has been visiting the sea-buckthorn on the mainland, on the shore further towards the west, and only three visits remain – the month is ending. Returning to Harakka Island after a break, whether due to bad weather or travels elsewhere or some other reason, always reminds me of how excellent a space it is for working and getting things done, at least compared to working at home as I have done during these pandemic times.

I do miss Örö Island, too, although spending a week there, as I did in the beginning of January and in the end of February, is something else compared to working here in a house full of colleagues and with more than twenty years of memories and materials surrounding me. Instead of returning to Örö in March – I planned a series of monthly visits but did not receive the funding I hoped for, so that plan might have to be adjusted – I am going to spend a month on another island, on Hailuoto in the north. More of that at the end of the week…

Helsinki Trees

Monument in March

An old sea-buckthorn (Hippophaë rhamnoides) bending down over the rocks bordering the sea shore in Ursinin Kallio Park in Helsinki is surrounded by a fence and decorated with a sign stating that it is a protected nature monument – “rauhoitettu luonnonmuistomerkki” in Finnish, “fridlyst naturminnesmärke” in Swedish. “Puumainen tyrni” and “trädformig havtorn” would translate as tree-like or tree-shaped sea-buckthorn. It is protected, because it is unusually big and old, I assume. There is a smaller one only a few meters further west on the shore without any fence.

Because most of the trees I have spent time with this year, the pines on Skifferholmen as well as the pines on Örö are rather unremarkable, generally speaking, I felt it was about time to engage with a remarkable tree. And a tree designated as a monument is remarkable, isn’t it? Instead of trying to make direct physical contact, which would be easy, because the tree reaches beyond the fence, I decided to simply sit next to it and try to see what I could learn by observing it closely. I had in mind some exercises in perception described by Craig Holdrege in his book Thinking Like a Plant (2013). The aim is also to place myself inconspicuously next to the the tree in a manner that will not disturb (or be disturbed by) all the people walking along the shore. Moreover, I decided to write some “field notes” after each short session, and upload them on the RC together with the usual still images from the video, to form a diary of sorts.

The first thing I noticed were the strange buds covering the shrub all over, looking like weird bugs or outgrowths. They will probably become leaves only much later in spring, and remain like this during March, which is the month I plan to spend with the sea-buckthorn.

Örö Trees

New Pines on Örö

My second visit to Örö this year has resulted in some new acquaintances. I have resumed my daily practice with the pine next door, of course, and I went to sit with the pine on the shore and even recorded a talk or attempt at a conversation, in Swedish. The text, and the text from my first visit in January, are added to my Swedish blog, in a post called “Tala om det för tallen” (tell it to the pine) here.

I have also met some new pines, however, like the spider pine that I recorded briefly from two opposite directions for In the Spider Pine 1 and 2 (see images below).

I wrote letters to pines as well, one letter to the small strangely bent pine on the northwestern shore on 21 February in the video Dearest Pine (with text) (15 min 45 sec), and another letter to the large pine tree on the northeastern cliff on 23 February in the video Esteemed Pine Tree (16 min 15 sec). These two letters, written by hand in English, and added to the videos as text scrolls rather than spoken voice-overs as I did before, are archived here below as well.

Dearest Pine

I hope you don’t mind my climbing on to your trunk, or branch, like some giddy goat – quite inappropriate behaviour for an old lady, I guess. But you are bent in such a funny and almost inviting way, so I simply had to try if I could get up on your “back”, as it were. Today the whole island of Örö is silent, almost miraculously so. Not only because there are no people – well, there are four people in the residency house in the south, and one woman is staying in her cottage not that far from the cottage where I am staying for now – no, it is because there is no wind, absolutely no wind – and that is rare in the outer archipelago; or is this the middle archipelago, perhaps. And not only is there no wind, there is a soft mist, almost like rain, that dampens all sounds. Here on the western shore the silence is so poignant because the sea is completely silent, too; it is not only still, it is covered with ice, frozen. Usually, the sea is roaring at least on some side of the island and is audible from everywhere.  It is very beautiful for human eyes, with the soft greyish white hues conforming by softening all the hues of green and brown and the rust of the pine trunks. I wonder if you would find it so? Perhaps bright sunlight is what you find most beautiful, because that is energy for you, your food. Or then the equivalence of beauty is the pleasure of a soft rain shower. At least it is probably nice when there are no insects trying to get in under your bark, and they should be asleep or dead now. I guess you would not like me to sit here for very long, because my more than 50 kilos mean quite a burden for your trunk. I don’t feel it sway or bounce under my weight, though- I wonder what made you bend like this. Was there another branch that has fallen away, or did this part of the trunk bend in such a strange manner to counterbalance some other part that has now disappeared? Anyway, I guess I should better leave you to “stretch” yourself after my weight, and to be honest I can feel the dampness through my clothes.  – There is a duck or something similar sounding somewhere towards the north. I am not completely alone as an “animal” here, after all. Well, of course not. Although all the human footprints in the snow, at least the fresh ones, are my own, from yesterday or the day before, there are other footprints by hares, those I recognise, and then something that could be deer and then the small dog or cat like marks that are probably of the invasive species that has come here and is called raccoon dog in English. They move around mainly in the dark, I guess. The ones I see, or rather hear, are the birds. But they, too, are mostly silent now in the mist. So, thank you for letting me play at being a youngster here on your branch, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the winter and the coming spring. Bye, bye for now…

Örö 23.2.2021

Esteemed Pine Tree, or should I say esteemed colleague in this business of living on earth. Pleased to meet you this rainy-misty Tuesday afternoon, at the end of February, here on Örö or Ear Island in the southwestern archipelago of Finland. Only a few days ago there was a thick snow cover on the island, and the sea is still frozen – quite unusual in these times of global warming. Now, however, the thaw season seems to be here, and there are heavy drops of water landing on this paper every now and then. From where I it her on your lowest branch I have a beautiful view to the sea on the eastern shore, and the small rocks and islets that rise up from the whitish grey ice. There is not much wind, which is unusual, and makes the place very silent. Normally, you would have the roar of the sea from some part of the island and also the sound of the wind in the trees, now that the sea is silent. Today I can only her the occasional “drip”, “drop”. – We have not met before, you grow here a little to the side from the walking path, and I noticed your beautiful location only a few days ago when visiting another pine in the vicinity. At that time, I mistook the low-growing juniper on the rocks to be part of your branches and decided to return. And that I did, today. When I tried to place my camera tripod, I noticed I had forgotten the memory card – incredibly stupid of me. There was nothing else to do but to return, have some lunch and rest a little, and then start out again. And here I am. Luckily dusk is falling later and later, so there is still time. And after all, I wonder if I have anything special to tell you. Yes, they are killing some of your relatives on the other side of the island, in order to keep the landscape at least partly open. Basically, you can live here in peace because this is a national park now, so nothing to be afraid of, unless they want to restore some earlier landscape on the island, when there were less trees. That is the nature of trees to spread out and grow into woods and forests, I guess. You are invaders, for sure. That is natural, so why combat that? Well, probably because there are some species of plants and animals that need the open landscape in order to survive. So, you will have to endure some restrictions to your expansion, like everybody else. Everybody else except humans, or so it seems. There seems to be no limit to our rights of intrusion and exploitation. And in some manner my sitting here on your branch is an example of that brutal mentality, although there are much worse examples, of course. Anyway, that is another story; that I will not bother you with now. Let me finish by simply expressing my gratitude for your generosity. I really appreciate the possibility to spend this moment here with you, on you, talking (or rather writing) to you. I wish you all the best for the coming spring. Take care!

ARA Trees

Meetings with trees in Johannesburg published

Yesterday the online, open access publication Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees in Johannesburg and Environs, published by ARA (Arts Research Africa) at Wits University in Johannesburg was officially launched with an event on zoom. The publication itself is openly available here, ; there is an online version and a print-on-demand version for ‘self-printing’. The publication is the result of my ARA residency about this time last year, which was interrupted by the pandemic. Originally we had the plan of organising a screening consisting of some of the video works made together with the trees introduced to me by generous colleagues. Now it feels like this option, a publication, which was a surrogate at first, is in many ways much better, since it a) remains and b) is accessible to more people.

The launching event was quite fascinating, too, organised by professor Christo Doherty, who had invited some of the contributors to say a few words: Manola Gayatri Kumarswamy, Myer Taub, Donald McCallum and Busisiwe Mahlangu. And some of the reviewers, too, I guess, and experts in the field like Anna Birch and Mareli Stolp. They all had beautiful presentations, questions and comments, but I want to remember especially the idea Manola mentioned, about the tree as a kind of ‘third space’, which enabled meetings across differences without focusing on those differences, or that is how I understood it. And then one of the points Myer took up, the poem by Brecht from 1939, which he quoted: “What kind of times are these, when to talk about trees is almost a crime because it implies silence about so many horrors?” That poem I remember very well from a Finnish political song in the 1970’s. And somehow it feels like these are such times again…

Helsinki Trees

On the Lowest Branch

Year of the Ox – On the Lowest Branch (February)

Should I choose a tree to visit for the year of the ox, which begun at Chinese New Year on 12 February, or not? Should I be repeating myself again, with these eternal time-lapse videos? On the other hand, why not? In the end I decided to choose a tree on Harakka Island and to visit it only once a month, to create a simple calendar as the one I made with a pine in Koivumäki in 2007 and by returning to the site of the year of the horse in 2014. Visiting a tree once a month is very easy compared to visiting them once a week or daily. And although the depiction of the year will be rather rough, it will hopefully be enough to indicate the major changes. But which tree, then?

Initially I thought of the maple tree on the hill above the so-called nature house, because it has a branch that I thought I could climb up to sit on (see image above). When I went there with my camera on the sunny Monday 15th, I realized it would be hard for me to get up without some kind of stool to assist me. And as a lazy person I chose to sit on the lowest branch of the nearby birch. The branch was bent so low, and so conveniently, that it was almost welcoming, so why bother with more complicated things (see image below).

After all, a birch is a nice and supportive pal for all kinds of beginnings, and the birch on Harakka will hopefully serve as my trusted friend for the coming year. I will see it every time I go to my studio, and perhaps I could go and sit with it even without a camera as a witness? That I usually never do, but this birch is growing so near that I could give it a try. For the calendar, I need the camera, though, and I tried to find a place for it that I could somehow recognize and repeat, next to the branch a small oak tree growing between the path and the birch.

Helsinki Trees

Another Pine on Skifferholmen

To continue holding on to the little pine on Skifferholmen or to start the practice of “becoming tree” with the taller pine behind it, that was the question. Or possibly combine both. On the cold and bright first of February I walked to the Island – there is a winter bridge, one of the reasons to choose that island as my site for now – and the decision was easy: start a new practice, a new relationship. What made me consider continuing with the previous practice beyond January was the one-week break in the middle of the month when I visited Örö. And there will be a break in February, too. So combining the two months seemed reasonable. I really missed by balancing practice, though, and the act of holding on to the little pine was not so exciting. Moreover, there are always so many people on the path between the camera and the smaller pine. That said, one person managed to walk between the camera and the other taller pine, too, since there seems to be another path there. I have to accept a lot of humans in these images, I guess.

I made a small test first, to see which point next to the tree would be the best one to balance on.

And I chose the spot closer to the tree even though my arms will stretch through its branches. In the image it makes sense to try to touch them…

So, this will be my tree partner for the coming month. I will add one still-image from each session on the RC-page, as usual, here. It felt good to return to the practice of “becoming tree”, and it was surprisingly easy to do it in the snow. Let’s see how it feels when the weather is less benign…

Örö Trees

Pines on Örö again

A week on Örö feels like a good start for the year, and seeing the place with some snow is exciting. I came here in order to perform with a pine next to the guesthouse, as part of the Be-coming Tree event on Saturday 9th January (and celebrate my birthday that way), see here. However, I ended up living in a house in the centre of the island, and decided to “hold hands” with a pine next door as well. I looked around in the vicinity and could not decided, but when I stepped out of the door with my camera, this pine was the first one I saw. I soon discovered it was a twin pine, which was not visible from the porch, but I chose the camera position to highlight that:

This pine tree I will now hold on to daily during the week I am here, and if all goes well I might come back and visit it again for another week later on. The sessions will be documented here. The pine that I will perform with for an hour on Saturday, however, I met already during my stay here in November, and suggested to the organisers based on an image taken back then. Now the pine looks like this:

Helsinki Trees

The Pine on Skifferholmen

On a morning walk I happened to cross the winter bridge to Uunisaari and to continue along the jetty to the nearby Liuskasaari or Skifferholmen. There I noticed two small pine trees standing by the path as if waiting to be performed with. Unlike Harakka Island, which is reachable only by boat, Uunisaari is connected with a bridge this time of year, so beginning a practice with these pines would not be hindered by storms or bad weather. So, why not? On New Years Day, first of January I dressed in black, took my camera and tripod and walked over – together with hundreds of other people. On my morning walk I did not realise that this was a favourite weekend walk for a large part of the population of the city. Well, I managed to perform with the smaller pine, trying to “hold hands” with it, with only a few people passing between the camera and the tree. I was so confused and embarrassed by all the people that I did not even check the image, and realized only afterwards that I should perhaps have placed the camera a little further away in order for the human figure not to be so big. But I decided to accept the image and go on from that, only changing the position of my left hand, and wearing gloves and a knit cap the following day. The same traffic continued even then. Obviously this will be a very public practice, but it is a public space, so there is not much I can do about it. Yesterday and today there was snowfall. If the snow stays for a while, I can forget the marks on the ground I carefully chose in order to find the right position for the tripod. Once again this will be an approximation, something only so-so… Anyway, the still images will be documented here