The draft for a paper that I shared with subgroup 4, when we were planning for our shared panel or workshop:
Pondering with Pines or Pine for PAR
Unlike the customary way of using myths (stories, legends, or narratives) as source material for performances, in ‘orthodox’ performance art myths are often created around the work or the artist afterwards. In much contemporary art, work stories are crucial for understanding the meaning of a work, and so are the process accounts of PAR-projects.
In the artistic research project Pondering with Pines, myths have not played a significant role, the aesthetic idea being ‘what you see is what you get’: “The main concern is how to develop ways of recognizing and engaging with the subjectivity of life forms such as trees, which we tend to consider as wholly ‘other’. How to develop acts of thinking, reflecting, pondering or speaking with trees, next to them or in some form of collaboration with them.” The link to myths is nevertheless evident in the plan: “How to consider historical, cultural, material, and local aspects when encountering specific trees. How to develop imaginative and poetic ways of encountering pine trees and engaging with them.” Could exploring myths related to pines enrich the project? Perhaps PAR methodology could be used to address or intervene in the myths of nature and humanity and rather help us to think in terms of their inseparability?
In ancient Greek poetry Pitys (or Pine) was a mountain nymph who was pursued by Pan and was changed into a pine tree to escape him. In another version she chose Pan instead of Boreas, the north wind, who therefore chased her down a cliff and killed her, and Gaia turned her dead body into a pine tree. In general, the pine is protected by the Oreades, the mountain nymphs, and is sacred to the god Dionysos. The pinecone is used to decorate the thyrsus, the tip of a giant fennel that the Bacchae, the wild followers of Dionysos carry with them, as depicted in the play by Euripides.
At a website of contemporary mythological practices the evergreen pine is recommended for ceremonies of resilience and protection. “Pine’s flexibility in the face of extreme weather and Pine’s self-protective sap are both a reminder to call upon our own innate resilience and self-healing capabilities.”
Another site notes that the druids used to light bonfires of Scots pine at the winter solstice to celebrate and to draw back the sun. Scots pines were decorated with lights and shiny objects, and the tree covered in stars represented divine light, connected to the later Christmas tree customs. “Scots pine was a symbol of durability, as in the Gaelic proverb: Hard as the heather, lasting as the pine.”
In Finnish culture pine trees, along with spruces, formed the basics for most things in life, from building material and heating to tar production, antiseptic medicine, soap and even addition to food. Old pines could be used as mark trees with a sign for a dead person carved into their bark.
In Chinese and Japanese culture, the pine trees are associated with longevity and steadfastness, even immortality. An interesting case is the pine tree depicted on the backdrop of every Noh stage. The pine tree represents the tree through which Noh was passed down to mankind from the heavens; the pine is thus connecting the earthly and heavenly realms. It is called kagami-ita (mirror panel) and it is said to reference to the pine at Kasuga-Taisha Shrine in Nara Prefecture.There the pine tree of an incarnated god stood behind the audience, and the stage back panel reflected the tree like a mirror. Therefore, the actors were giving a performance to the god, rather than to the audience.
The pine tree I was performing with in Kaivopuisto Park in Helsinki during the year 2022 resembles the pine depicted on the Noh stage more than the straight and tall pine trees of the forestry plantations in Finland. I chose it as my partner due to its low-stretching branches and beautiful form, beginning with practicing the tree pose from Tai-ji next to it and then holding on to one of its branches. After a while (in March-April) I realized I was missing my previous practice of the two-legged tree pose, which provides the perfect counter movement of reaching up after the grounding movement of the tai-ji pose. Thus, I added this third pose to my sequence. This means, however, that for creating a three-channel video installation or a triptych the third (or the first, from the left) channel is missing material for (48) images. I created a short triptych with images of the pine without a human being replacing the missing poses in the beginning but realized it might be interesting to use this opportunity to experiment with alternatives and use a black background instead of those images and add some text to the work. I first thought I would write a story of the practice, a description how it was done, but did not find the right words. Then I thought I could use a spell written in Finnish to another pine in another context but was not happy with that solution either. Therefore, I now turn to the PAR working group for help in generating text for those 48 images.
Those who participated in the working group in Reykjavik last year will recognize the pine. I presented the same tree there, albeit only a real time documentation of the different actions included in one session. Now the work is finished, the video is edited, and I even presented a split screen version (see attached link) in an exhibition, but I would still like to return to the problem of adding an action in midway. The experience of wanting to change things during the process, and those changes in turn resulting in new problems is probably familiar to many engaged in PAR.
(link to this page)
My proposed exercise would be one of the following:
a) Write five sentences of memories or ideas or stories that you associate with pine trees.
b) Look at the images of the pine. Write one sentence or phrase in response to each image, or in response to as many of the images as you can.
c) Think of the myths, stories, fantasies, and beliefs associated with pines that you know of and share them in brief formulations, as a list of sentences or phrases.