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.


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.

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.
Stockholm Trees

Becoming Ginkgo?

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:

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?

Eckerö Trees

A Day with an Ash Tree

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.

In the Ash Tree

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:

Day with an Ash 5 am

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!

Day with an Ash 11 pm

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!

Eckerö Stockholm Trees

Goodbye to the Pine on Hundudden

Returning to the Pine on Hundudden for a last visit 19.7.2021.

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:

Writing to the pine next to the pine…

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).