In this essay I describe one example of working with a tree and suggest that such artistic methods, like performing with a tree repeatedly or addressing a tree in writing as a performance for camera, serve as useful tools to generate material to reflect upon later. The heightened perceptual awareness and the intensity of the moment of performance helps in articulating observations and ideas that might not have come to the fore in other circumstances.
During the artistic research project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees (2020-2021), which I have discussed in Performing and Thinking with Trees (Arlander 2022), I made the acquaintance of a large variety of trees. In this exposition I am presenting one of them, a small ash tree growing on the shore next to the historical post quai on Eckerö on the Åland Islands between Finland and Sweden, where I spent July 2021 in a residency. This tree interesting as an example because I chose to explore with that one tree most of the various approaches I had tried with other trees before. They were all uploaded in the order they were created on one page on the RC, https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/761326/1307712 which serves as an appendix or archive to this exposition.
The three text-based experiments were exploring different strategies. The first experiment “On vegetal Democracy” (10 min 40 sec) was performed on 7 July 2021, for the event “Perform – Respond – Extend” organized by the Artistic Research Working Group of Performance Studies international (see program http://psi-artistic-research-working-group.blogspot.com/2021/07/artistic-research-working-group-perform.html ). In that experiment I read a previously written text about vegetal democracy, a term coined by philosopher Michael Marder (2013) to the tree, in English, and asked for the tree’s opinion about it. The video is shot from a distance, showing most the tree, while the reading is recorded by a microphone in my hand.
The second experiment “Askträdet på Eckerö – The Ash Tree on Eckerö” (med text – with text) (6 min 11 sec.) was performed on 8 July 2021, the same “Perform – Respond – Extend” event, sitting on the rock next to the tree and shot from a middle distance, showing the leaves of the tree in greater detail. I am writing a letter to the tree, in Swedish, discussing the myth of Daphne, who was transformed into a tree to avoid the harassment by Apollon, and wondering, whether the tree is a human in disguise. The letter is read and recorded as a voice-over and translated into English subtitles added to the video.
The third experiment, “Dagen med Asken – Day with an Ash” (26 min 12 sec) was performed on the 22 July every second hour between 5 am and 11 pm. The text that I write during each session in Swedish is read and recorded as a voice-over narration, and the English translation is added as subtitles, as a rather fast-moving text scroll. Two shorter versions were edited of the same video material, “Day of an Ash” (9 min 50 sec) records a time-lapse image of the ash tree without human presence, while “Day with an Ash (brief)” (12 min) shows one minute of each session with me sitting on the rock next to the ash tree, writing, albeit without text. It is this third experiment and the version with the text that is the center piece of this essay.
I made several experiments without text, exploring various poses and different distances and framings, beginning with Attempting to Become an Ash Tree (5 min) where I perform the two-legged tree pose next to the tree, as I have done with many other trees (see Arlander 2022), continuing with a close up, Listening with an Ash Tree (5 min) and then combining them into two split-screen videos. Another attempt, entering the tree as close as possible, was named Wind Dispersal (With an Ash Tree) (9 min), almost a close-up with the horizon visible through the branches. The name refers to the mode of seed dispersal used by the ash tree. In The Double of an Ash Tree (11 min), performed in the low evening sun, I lie down on the rock next to the tree with my feet up, as if mimicking the two trunks of the ash tree. Later I also made In the Ash Tree (7 min 50 sec), where I enter the image, climb up on the lowest branch of the ash tree standing in the tree close to its trunk, climb down again and exit the image. This action was edited into several versions, Into the Ash Tree, which shows the human entering the image, climbing into the tree, and then slowly disappearing through a slow crossfade, and Out of the Ash Tree (7 min 50 sec), which shows the human appearing in the tree through a slow crossfade, then climbing down and exiting the image. These were not combined, although following the model of previous attempts at appearing and disappearing that could be done.
The material from the day with the ash tree, which I will focus on here, was also edited into several version. Day of an Ash (9 min 50 sec) shows the ash tree without human presence, while Day with an Ash (brief) (12 min) and 11 pm shows me sitting on the rock next to the ash tree, writing. In Dagen med Asken – Day with an Ash (26 min 12 sec) the text that I write in Swedish on each occasion is read and recorded as a voice-over narration added to the video, and the English translation is added as subtitles, a rather fast-moving text scroll.
Like the other methods used in these explorations with the ash tree, the strategy of recording one day with a tree, I have explored with several trees before resulting in works like The Tide in Kan Tiang (2016), Grey Day in Rekdal (2017), Sunday with a Pine (2017), Day with Old Tjikko (2019), Day with a Juniper 1-2 (2019), Day with the Firethorn Rhus(2020), Day with a Bog Birch (2020), Day with a Pine (2020), Another Day with a Pine (2020). These works were preceded by a series of days and nights, that is, a full 24 hour related to Animal Years (2003-2015) and to visits to Kilpisjärvi in the high north (Day and Night with Malla 2014 and Day and Night with a Mountain Birch 2021). Most of these works contain my diary notes written after each session. What was new in the day with the ash tree was incorporating writing into the image, recording the act of writing, something I had previously done only in one-off sessions like Dear Olive Tree and other letters to trees.
The diary written during a day with a tree combined with a rough time-lapse video of that action can exemplify one possible artistic strategy, one method of generating data, to use the terminology of social scientists, one way of producing material for artworks, for reflection, for research.