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 will encounter individual trees that are remarkable in their context or rather unremarkable and spend time with them alone or together with the public in order to create video works and video essays.
The title of the project alludes to the photography book Meetings with Remarkable Trees (1996) by Thomas Pakenham and the project is in some sense forming a counterpoint to it, by questioning what is remarkable and worthy of attention and what is unremarkable, while focusing on individual trees. The medium in this project is not photography, however, but rather performance for video and recorded voice. The project is further developing experiences from the artistic research project “Performing with Plants” funded by Vetenskapsrådet (the Swedish Research Council) at Stockholm University of the Arts in 2018-2019.
Although we are often accused of “not seeing the forest for the trees”, this project wants to look at the opposite danger, not seeing the trees for the forest, and focus on individual trees. This is not to deny that trees form networks and ecosystems or symbiotic relationships not only with other trees but with fungi, bacteria and all kinds of micro-organisms, and are in a constant exchange with their environment, as humans are as well. Nor the fact that forests or woods or substantial areas of trees are needed for producing effective carbon sinks, cooler and fresher urban air, flood resistance and more.
Emphasizing individualism is a risky strategy in our current neoliberal capitalist society, where the importance of individualism is exaggerated anyway. It can nevertheless be useful to focus on singular trees, as an important first step towards decolonizing our relationship with “nature”. As late ecofeminist Val Plumwood (2003) pointed out, colonial thinking tends to emphasize a very strong difference between “us” and “them”, and to see “them” as all alike, stereotypical, non-individualised. Thus, attending to particular trees might work as a way to help us see trees as life forms that we have much in common with, despite our undeniable differences.