Presentation for the Perform - Respond - Extend online event, organised by the Artistic Research Working Group of PSi (Performance Studies International) as part of the Constellate program in 2021

Adding text on video when writing to trees?


Three videos serve as examples in discussing the rather technical question how to add text to videos  –  Writing with a Pine (with text) 12 min, Writing in a Pine (with text) 5 min 20 sec, and Dearest Pine 15 min 45 sec – which were all made as part of the artistic research project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees. Here they exemplify different strategies of using text - as a broken English voice-over, as a Swedish voice-over with English subtitles or as English subtitles only. The question of the primacy of spoken versus written text was at the core of the logocentrism debates of not-so-long-ago. Issues of language, including critique of the dominance of English, are crucial in the debates on decolonialization today, second only to land rights. These topics, however, are not my main concern here, but rather the experience of the viewer-listener; which manner of adding the text will best assist in focusing on the attempt at addressing the tree? 


This attempt relates to the project as a whole: How to rethink our relationship to other life forms that we share this planet with is one of the core questions for art today. In this artistic research project, Annette Arlander encountersindividual trees that are remarkable in their context or rather unremarkable and spends time with them alone or together with the public in order to create video works and video essays. For more about the project, see

Örö 10th November 2020


Dearest Pine Tree,

Excuse me for bumping into your “lap” without notice, coming to you like this without forewarning, and disturbing you this November afternoon. It is a great pleasure and honour to be able to sit on your branch and address you with this letter, and simply to be with you and to spend time with you on this island, a former military area that has been turned into a national park and opened to the public only five years ago. I am grateful to you for appearing or performing together with me for this brief moment and for allowing me to record this meeting with a video camera. At this point I probably have to explain why I address you formally like this, and I also have to apologize for addressing you in English, which is not my native language, nor your preferred language, I assume. What your preferred language would be I do not even dare guess, something with volatile chemicals, perhaps. The reason for this formal address is that I hope this letter will reach other humans and not only you, that is, humans will hear or probably read this letter as an example of my practice of writing letters to trees. And unlike some other letters to trees I have written, this will be a letter pondering on letter writing and especially writing letters to trees, so it will be a “meta-letter” of sorts, probably, at least on some level, since my aim is to consider this practice in terms of its ethical and artistic implications; at least I will try to do that. Meanwhile, I also hope that these thoughts will somehow reach you, if not through these words, then through my thoughts. And even though you might not be able to read my thoughts in a strict sense, I hope you will be able to sense my intentions, somehow, and to affirm that they are benign and respectful. I would not like to bother you with ponderings that have no relevance for you if I did not feel that you somehow accept being part of this attempt. And I do not really demand any response from you; I simply try to articulate my thoughts in your presence, in writing, as clearly as possible, so that you can sense them in your manner, or then my intentions at least, and my respect, if nothing else. With all your experience of winter storms, military assaults and visiting tourists, lately, you are of course accustomed to many things, including human attention.

Anyway, I hope you are well this lovely afternoon, which is truly exceptional by being completely still. The reason I came to you today is exactly that, the extraordinary situation that there is no wind. It is so quiet that I can hear the buzz from the radar tower, not far from here. I have been here only for little more than a week, so I cannot say for sure, but as I hear it is usually windy here, and so far, the wind has been strong day in and day out. You have spent all your life here, so you should know. Well, let us enjoy this moment of stillness as a beautiful exception! The island is full of pine trees, both old and young ones, and many of you are bent in strange contortions due to the constant wind, and some of you, being broken in storms, keep on growing from what was left; remarkable bravery, I must say. You too, have a rather precarious position next to the sand pit, with a portion of your trunk and half of your roots, or what is left of them, resting in mid-air. The branches that I sit on have reached far out on the slope to counterbalance that, I suppose. I actually visited you last week, as you might remember, and even posed for the video camera together with you, because I was so impressed by your place of growth. There is a big hole where sand has been extracted right next to you, to the right from where I sit. I tried to pose with your roots, creating a small video that I call “On the Edge”, but that is another story. This time I chose to place the camera in a such a way that your precarious position does not show. Why did I do that, actually? Your “bravery” was what caught my attention to begin with. Perhaps as a gesture of respect, I guess, because I wanted to show you at your best, not as the vulnerable creature you are, like all of us. Or because I wanted to focus on my main concerns now, this act of writing, of “performing writing for camera” on the one hand and of addressing you as a tree with a letter on the other. Usually, letters are written to those who are absent, not to those present, of course. But somehow it feels easier to address you in writing than through speech, probably because I hope that formulating or articulating my thoughts into words could make them somehow clearer for you to discern.

This attempt at addressing you is a result of various attempts at performing with trees; I have been experimenting with posing with trees repeatedly for quite some time, while the idea of writing letters to trees, like the one I am writing to you now, is something I have explored only recently. Much earlier I wrote small texts on behalf of trees, and spoke them as the trees, as if the trees would speak, hanging some earphones on the branches of those talking trees for passers-by to listen to in a series of site-specific monologues called Trees Talk. But that was not a very satisfying way of performing together. It was more like using the trees to hang stories on, as puppets in puppet theatre. - Well, what am I doing now, then? I am sitting on you as if on a wooden bench in a park, and writing “stories” again. Well, not exactly. There is a difference in trying to address you, to talk to you or with you, to engage in a conversation with you, however clumsy or one-sided that might be, compared to speaking for you or on behalf of you. Speaking for others is ethically challenging, sometimes necessary, but often misguided. Listening might be the best option in many cases, and that is what I have tried to do previously. Or, if not directly listening, then being in the vicinity of, being nearby, sitting with you or some of your relatives, breathing together, growing together, sharing our participation in zoe, in life, and engaging in trans-corporeal exchanges, with all the chemicals and magnetic or other waves and various substances floating between us and through us. That is probably a more reasonable way of trying to perform together, after all, because this letter-writing is strangely one-sided. After all, letters are usually written to people who are not present. 

By addressing you in writing I am of course also risking a “pathetic fallacy” of sorts, projecting human sentiments on trees and other living beings, thinking of you as a kind of human being, or even risking some kind of romantic and idealist notion of “merging with nature.” Put in another way, however, it would be an even more pathetic fallacy, a stupid mistake, I think, to assume that you would not be able to sense my presence in some manner. So, perhaps the risk is not so dangerous. An I-You relationship with other living beings is worth striving for, and our manner of speaking matters. 

All right, I am not suggesting that you can read this letter. Or even read my thoughts, but by at least trying to address you in this way, I feel there is some possibility for contact opened between us. Rather than thinking of you as the “Other”, something wholly different and unreachable, I prefer to think of you as a relative, a distant one but a relative, nevertheless. And in some sense, we share the same ancestors, I guess. Nevertheless, simply spending time together, listening to you rather than addressing you, might be a more appropriate form of conversation.

Anyway, my time is up, and I want to thank you for this moment together, for your friendliness, patience and generosity, and I want you to know that I really do appreciate the possibility to spend time with you here today. Thank you once more, and all the best for the coming winter!

Yours AA

Örö 16 November 2020


Dear Pine,

I turn to you in Swedish, because it feels like the most natural alternative here in the outer archipelago, although you probably hear at least as much Finnish and why not other languages, too, especially during the summer months. There has been some forestry work around you, many pine trees have been felled and it is great that you have been spared, probably thanks to your interesting form. You are really an ideal climbing tree for children that might come by, and why not adults, too. However, I am probably one of the oldest who have climbed up on this branch of yours. I am not an expert in tree climbing, and not especially daring either, but your branches seem so inviting, they form almost like a ladder to climb up with. It is really a bit too cold to sit and write with bare hands; luckily the wood protects against the wind that you can here in the noise from the seashore. By the way, I hope I am not disturbing you autumn rest, when I simply thrust myself up without any greetings or ceremonies of welcome. Clumsy, sure, but that is how I often behave with humans as well. Actually, I would prefer to simply sit here and breath in the wind together with you, but writing keeps me warm, however absurd it sounds. And I want to try to address you in some way and tell you how nice you are, elegant and exciting in your flame-like form. Actually, many of your branches are dead, or at least they lack needles and cones; only high up in your crown you are green and healthy. There is a lot of moss and lichen growing on your trunk and it is probably full of all kinds of small bugs, too. I join those small bugs that feed on you, even though I guess I am a “big bug”, at least regarding my weight. No, that was not very funny, sorry for that. But your lower branches are really very strong; I cannot feel the least swaying under my weight. Although I think I am not causing you any suffering or trouble it is becoming too cold for me to sit here in the wind. So, I say thank you for me and wish you all the best for the future. Thank you for letting me sit here and farewell. Yours AA

[Örö 21.2.2021]

Dearest Pine


I hope you don’t mind my climbing on to your trunk, or branch, like some giddy goat – quite inappropriate behaviour for an old lady, I guess. But you are bent in such a funny and almost inviting way, so I simply had to try if I could get up on your “back”, as it were. Today the whole island of Örö is silent, almost miraculously so. Not only because there are no people – well, there are four people in the residency house in the south, and one woman is staying in her cottage not that far from the cottage where I am staying for now – no, it is because there is no wind, absolutely no wind – and that is rare in the outer archipelago; or is this the middle archipelago, perhaps. And not only is there no wind, there is a soft mist, almost like rain, that dampens all sounds. Here on the western shore the silence is so poignant because the sea is completely silent, too; it is not only still, it is covered with ice, frozen. Usually, the sea is roaring at least on some side of the island and is audible from everywhere.  It is very beautiful for human eyes, with the soft greyish white hues conforming and softening all the hues of green and brown and the rust of the pine trunks. I wonder if you would find it so? Perhaps bright sunlight is what you find most beautiful, because that is energy for you, your food. Or then the equivalence of beauty is the pleasure of a soft rain shower. At least it is probably nice when there are no insects trying to get in under your bark, and they should be asleep or dead now. I guess you would not like me to sit here for very long, because my more than 50 kilos means quite a burden for your trunk. I don’t feel it sway or bounce under my weight, though- I wonder what made you bend like this. Was there another branch that has fallen away, or did this part of the trunk bend in such a strange manner to counterbalance some other part that has now disappeared? Anyway, I guess I should better leave you to “stretch” yourself after my wright, and to be honest I can feel the dampness through my clothes.  – There is a duck or something similar sounding somewhere towards the north. I am not completely alone as an “animal” here, after all. Well, of course not. Although all the human footprints in the snow, at least the fresh ones, are my own, from yesterday or the day before, there are other footprints by hares, those I recognize, and then something that could be deer and then the small dog or cat like marks that are probably of the invasive species that has come here and is called raccoon dog in English. They move around mainly in the dark, I guess. The ones I see, or rather hear, are the birds. But they, too, are mostly silent now in the mist. So, thank you for letting me play at being a youngster here on your branch, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the winter and the coming spring. Bye, bye for now…