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.
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.
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?
Goodbye to the Pine on Hundudden
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).