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.

The eighteenth video of the week is from the beginning of this year, With a Pine on Skifferholmen (23 min 11 sec), performed daily in Helsinki during January 2021, although with a one-week break (between 7 and 14 January, when I visited Örö). The performances were documented as still-images on the RC here . Rather than practicing the two-legged tree pose, the balancing and stretching exercise I had repeated with several trees, including the pine on Örö in the previous video, I wanted to return to an earlier practice, holding hands with a tree. That I had loved doing with a juniper on Harakka Island in 2011, and even created an essay based on a revisit to the same shrub, Revisiting the Juniper, see here. Part of the pleasure of that practice was probably in standing with the juniper covered in a scarf, not only “holding hands” with the shrub, because the physical contact with the pine on Skifferholmen was not especially rewarding or interesting. After this experiment during January, I returned to the balancing exercise together with a neighbouring pine during February.

This seventeenth video of the week, The Pine’s Apprentice (brief) (13 min 50 sec) was recorded one year ago, in November 2020, daily, with a pine growing outside the residency house on Örö. The full version is 53 min. At the moment of writing this I am on Örö again, in the same house, for a brief visit, and the pine tree looks like before. Another tall pine growing next to it, however, lost a huge branch in a storm two nights ago. The daily practice recorded in the video, a balancing exercise that I call “becoming tree” after the title of an article, which presented the exercise (the two-legged tree pose) in a yoga magazine, I had by the time I came to Örö already practiced with several trees, like the oak on Galway Road (see the second video of the week) or a birch next to Mustarinda house. I was reading Gurdjeff’s book Meetings with Remarkable Men at the time, in order to know what my project title might allude to, and this pine seemed to me a real master teacher.

This sixteenth video of the week Pine by the Sea I-III (2 min) is a triptych made in November 2020, during my first visit to the island for a one-month Öres residency. Now, when I am here again in November, this time only for one week due to some lucky coincidences, it seems strange to think that this work was made in November, one of the darkest and dreariest months in this part of the world. The images look almost mediterranean and definitely more like summer. There was actually a moment of sun today as well, although the wind is cold. These images were created in one session, on 6th November, the three poses performed one after the other, with a small pine growing on the cliff on the northwestern shore. They were edited into three separate videos, which are here combined together. I chose this work in order to celebrate the anniversary of my first visit to Örö, and to provide some sort of encouragement to those who get depressed in the darkness. Like pines and other plants, we need all the light we can get right now…

The fifteenth video of the week, Sunday with a Pine – with text (8 min 12 sec) from 2017 continues the return to material created in Nida, simply because it is the other one of the two videos now available through the Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art, see here. I was about to say that it is the first video where I use spoken text and my own voice as the soundtrack, but that is actually not true. I had experimented with that already in Sitting on a Rock (Rock with text) (2003) and later in Day and Night of the Dog (2007). This video of the week, recorded every second hour with a pine on the Parnidis dune in Nida on 24 September 2017 was nevertheless the beginning of a whole series of attempts at using spoken text as soundtrack, whether in the form of a journal, as here, or in letter form, as in later explorations. It is also an example of combining a conventional and romantic view of the landscape with a mundane and everyday account as a contrast.

This is the fourteenth video of the week, Walking in Nida (22 min 22 sec) made in September 2017 and added to vimeo in reduced file size, therefore the title – very small. I chose it because this video in original format is now available in AV-arkki, the Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art, where you can see a brief trailer of it, here. Another video made in the same residency in Nida, on the Curonian Spit, Sunday with a Pine – with text (8 min. 12 sec) is now there as well, with a brief trailer, here. What makes Walking in Nida special is the use of movement and inserted images. I performed with many pine trees posing for a camera on tripod, and have described my attempts in an article “Resting with Pines in Nida” available online here. This walking video I have not discussed, so, briefly put, I wanted to try to capture the feeling of walking in the manmade forest on the dunes, and experimented with an action camera placed on my forehead while walking. And in order to get the feeling of “action”, and the strange landscape with its labyrinthine paths I inserted five walks as smaller frames into a sixth one. I have not succeeded in doing anything else worthwhile along these lines, so far. Perhaps I should try again, if in a suitable area…

The thirteenth video of the week, Kära Björk [Dear Birch] 5 min 50 sec, is a letter written to a birch tree growing next to the forest path near Mustarinda house on Paljakkavaara in Hyrynsalmi in Northeastern Finland. I spent September 2020 there in a residency, and have shared another video of the week, The Reclining Birch, from my time there as well. It is slightly funny to chose a birch again, because the old-growth forest in the area consists mainly of spruces. The reason for my choice is that of the three letters to trees that I wrote in Mustarinda, the two other ones (written to spruces in Finnish and in English) have been shown in various contexts and are also available as a video essay online, here (scroll down for “Dear Spruce – Dear Deceased”). The last letter, Dear Deceased, (actually the beginning and end of it) I showed as part of a brief talk, “In the Disappearing Forest” in a research day organised at the University of St. Etienne. A pdf of my powerpoint is available here. This small letter to a birch in Swedish, however, has not been shown anywhere, and is probably mainly interesting for those who know the language. I have not made an English translation to use as subtitles, because if I would, the translation would be available here. I have published the text in Swedish, though, in a blog post on my personal website, here. Probably the reason why I have not shown this letter or performance before is not so much the language, but the leisurely and almost trivial tone of the letter. If you work with semi-automatic writing and stick to the traces of the actual performance, the result is not always so exciting. I hope it is interesting in another manner…

The twelfth video of the week, Dear Olive Tree, is a fairly old video, the first one where I wrote a letter to a tree performing for camera sitting next to the tree. I came to think of it now, because a video essay based on that work was recently published in JER (Journal for Embodied Research), and is openly available online:  “Dear Olive Tree.” Journal of Embodied Research, 4(2): 5 (19:40). DOI: https://doi.org/10.16995/jer.70
The video above is the same as in the essay, in its original form, without texts added on top. The experience of watching this “slow video” probably differs substantially from watching the video essay, which includes not only the letter I am writing as well as two other letters I wrote to the tree later, and some notes about the practice this moment with the olive tree later developed into. If you want you can watch both and compare…

The eleventh video of the week, Bending with the Pine I-II (2 min 28 sec) is another short clip made during the Öres residency in November 2020 on Örö. It was performed almost ex tempore with a pine growing next to the road, not far from the pine that I performed with for the video triptych On the Edge, the centre piece of which was shown online as part of the exhibition Öres 2021 this summer. These two small gestures or poses with this beautiful double pine are here combined into a split screen video. They are rather unusual compared to my ordinary way of working, which usually does not involve any “extraordinary” behaviour or other than everyday poses. This time I probably felt invited to play with the form of the trunks and wanted to try something new. Unfortunately these experiments did not lead to further extravaganzas…

The tenth video of the week, Day with a Pine (3 min 20 sec ) is a variation of the action of swinging in a pine, performed during an Öres residency on Örö Island on 13 November 2020 beginning at daybreak at 8 am and ending in almost complete darkness, after sunset at 5 pm. The days at that time are short and like this one often mostly grey. There are two other versions of the work, Day with a pine (long) (11 min 20 sec) with all the material and an even shorter one than the one displayed here, Day with a Pine (brief) (54 sec ). I wrote some notes after each session, in English, and they are available on the RC, here. Besides the difference between the two planetary cycles, a year in the previous video of the week and a day and night (or here only a day), this video can exemplify how the same action can be used in various ways. Here a stronger illusion of a durational endurance performance is created, because the changes between the images are small, mainly in the sky, and the movement is minimal.

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…