Video of the Week

Since the beginning of 2020 my encounters with trees have resulted in quite a few video works, more or less remarkable, some of them archived on the Research Catalogue, here. While the archive is focused on documenting the process, often in still images, this selection focuses on one video at a time – perhaps weekly, as the title suggests – with the latest choice on top. The videos are introduced and contextualised briefly, although meant to be watched as they are, often as a form of “slow video”, if you wish.

This ninth video of the week, a video essay called Hanging in a pine tree or appearing with plants (19 min 31 sec), was made as part of my previous project, Performing with Plants, to be included in a lecture performance at the Performance philosophy conference “Between Institution and Intoxication: How does Performance Philosophy Intervene?” at University of Amsterdam 14-17.3.2019. The video essay is based on the same material as Hanging in a Pine (15 min 28 sec) the diptych Swinging-Hanging in a Pine and the triptych Hanging in a Pine Swinging, although slightly longer and with a voice-over text added to the video. I proposed it to be part of an article for an issue of the International Journal of Screendance, Expanded Screendance (vol. 11 2020), but never heard anything from them and forgot about it. Now when I accidentally noticed the issue had been published long ago, there is no reason not to share the video here. It can serve as an example of my experiments with the format of an academic (or semi-academic?) video essay, with the use of blog posts as field notes and also of my first attempts at addressing a tree, my co-performer, directly, at the end.

This eight video of the week was created during a Mustarinda residency in September 2020. The Reclining Birch -mix (16 min 41 sec) was performed by reclining on a birch on a forest path near Mustarinda house in Hyrynsalmi in Northeastern Finland on 8 September 2020 during a one-month residency there, by performing for a camera on tripod, recording the same image with and without the human figure and then mixing the two videos with very slow crossfades. Thus the human being slowly appears on the trunk and after a while slowly disappears again. This work exemplifies – besides the reclining position, which is exceptional among my poses with trees – the use of such slow crossfades to make the human figure appear from or disappear into the landscape, or here the tree trunk. I think I used the technique for the first time in one of the Wind Nest video works (2006-2008), juxtaposing a slow disappearance and a slow appearance of the human on a rock on two parallel monitors (variation 5), viewable online here. Performances with some other trees in the same old-growth forest near Mustarinda are listed here, including a performance with a rowan where the human figure disappears with the help of a slow cross-fade in a similar manner.

This seventh video of the week, Looking at the Spruce 1 & 2 (19 min 12 sec) was performed and recorded on 9 September 2020 with a spruce on Paljakkavaara mountain, during a one-month residency in Mustarinda house in Hyrynsalmi in Northeastern Finland. It is an example of several attempts at being, posing, performing with a tall spruce in the nearby forest, documented here. I tried various strategies that I had used before in other contexts. This version develops the idea of combining a close up of the bark of the tree with an image showing the tree together with a human next to it, which I used in Trees in Victoria (2016), see here and here. And it depicts looking by showing only the shoulder of the human, a strategy used before in Year of the Horse – Calendar (2015), see here, and in Looking at Malla (2014), see here. This video also serves to exemplify the use of split-screen videos to show two perspectives on the same tree, here a close-up of the bark and a human looking at the spruce. The two videos are recorded one after the other (rather than simultaneously with two cameras), and are thus not really synchronised, although perhaps creating that impression. Most importantly, the video stands as a representative of all the trees I encountered in the beautiful old-growth forest around Mustarinda on Paljakkavaara.

The sixth video of the week, July with a Pine (16 min) was performed daily in July 2020 with a small pine on the shore of Harakka Island. The exercise I am performing next to the pine is the same two-legged tree pose that I first tried out with the oak on Galway Road and have since then performed with several trees in various residencies, often daily for a month. The notes written after each session (in Finnish) are available on the RC, here . I chose this video now because it is currently shown in a screening compilation in the auditorium on Harakka Island as part of the exhibition The Artists’ Island curated by Veikko Halmetoja and is on display until 26 September. For information about the exhibition in English, see link to press release in English, here.

This fifth video of the week, Dear Ficus Macrophylla (17 min), is both old and new. It was performed and video recorded on 25 December 2019 in Alicante, Spain. For the colloquium CARPA 7 Elastic Writing in Artistic Research I re-edited the video, by recording a voice-over text. The beginning of the text consists of the letter I am writing by the tree, read now, one and a half year later. The remaining text consists of reflections concerning writing letters to trees compiled for the presentation. I considered showing here the original work, without sound and slightly longer, and to only refer to this reflective version with text. But since this new version was already uploaded on vimeo, I chose to share this one. It is an example of a hybrid format, something which is part artwork part semi-academic essay and also of a situation specific work, made for a particular occasion, although it hopefully makes sense even beyond that. A bit more context, for those who prefer that, is available in a pdf of a powerpoint here and on the conference website, here.

This is the fourth video of the week, Dear Firethorn Rhus (with text), created in Nirox Sculpture Park in South-Africa, during a brief five-day visit there, in Krugersdorp, quite far from Johannesburg, but nevertheless in Gauteng, I wrote to and with small shrubs that belonged to the species Firethorn Rhus (Rhus pyroides). The choice of this shrub was due to the fact that I had performed with the same species in the park and was glad to recognize it, although I did not know it was an indigenous shrub at that moment. The text written as part of the performance for camera on 18 March 2020 was read, recorded and added to the video as voice-over that same night. This was my first experiment with recording the letter and adding it as a voice-over to the video of the writing. This letter was written while sitting on a shrub bending over a small brook, with my back to the camera, almost as a silhouette, and the sound of the tiny waterfall dominates the video. In the video the act of writing is barely visible. The letter was written as a kind of automatic writing, freely associating in the moment, without pausing to reflect what to write, or how to do it. The text is transcribed from the handwritten notes without editing or modifications, and thus it serves as a kind of trace or documentation of the performance. The text is published in Meetings with remarkable and Unremarkable Trees in Johannesburg with Environs (2020, p 94) downloadable here and readable here, and all the works created in Nirox are available here.

This third video of the week, In the Ombu Tree (with commentary), was made in Johannesburg, where sitting in trees was not as easy as in other city parks. Samuel Ancer, who was my assistant there, explains in the voice-over narration to this short clip why the session was so brief. The story and some further context to the video can be found in the publication Meetings with remarkable and Unremarkable Trees in Johannesburg with Environs (2020, p 58) downloadable here and readable here. There you can also find images of other trees I chose to sit in as well as trees presented to me by colleagues. The Ombú tree is not an indigenous tree in the area, but imported from South America. With its wide trunk it invited me to climb into the hollow among its branches. It is one of the few videos where my face is visible, and perhaps therefore chosen as the cover image of the publication documenting my work during the ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency at Wits University. It serves here as an example of the importance of understanding the context and of collaboration with other humans, too, which I am not engaging in such explicit manner that often.

This second video of the week, With the Oak on Galway Road (14 min 47 sec), was performed daily with an old oak tree at a Galway Road B&B between 13 February and 16 March 2020 during an ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency at Wits University in Johannesburg, South-Africa. It was my first attempt at practicing the two-legged tree pose next to a tree, following the instructions in a yoga magazine: “you, too, can become a tree”. The story of the tree told by the landlady can be found in the publication Meetings with remarkable and Unremarkable Trees in Johannesburg with Environs (2020, p 24) downloadable here and readable here.

This video, Tallen på Hundudden, the pine on Hundudden (18 min 15 sec), is from my first meeting with a small pine on Hundudden in Stockholm, 7 January 2020, before the pandemic changed my plans. In the beginning I sit with the pine, looking out to sea, probably because I planned to make a rough time-lapse video of weekly visits. At about 6 minutes I start writing to the pine, and the text in Swedish is added as a scroll on the image. The other two encounters as well as a last farewell meeting one and a half year later are available here. I chose to begin the selection of video with this one, because it is one kind of a beginning, albeit a somewhat “false” start…