Though the process of submitting my proposal to fieldwork and arriving at the rural site to begin installation, waves of revision have been shifting the landscape of concept and what is possible. Cost is an issue. Availability of supplies is an issue. Time is an issue. Mosquitoes are in issue – we are, after all, in rural Ontario and it’s spring. This is an iterative process – my ideas are being informed by place and my ideas are informing place. During my first few days I do small projects to get my hands dirty and to meditate on what might be. I harvest spurs from a Hawthorn and create a small plantation. I sketch trees. I explore the pine plantation and farm where I will be working. And finally…
In fairy tales and folklore the deep dark forest is a forbidding place where witches and wolves wait to prey. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s psychoanalysts believed that the forest represented the unconscious mind and contained things that we fear or aspects of ourselves that had been rejected or neglected. They also believed that something good could come from going into the forest and confronting the darkness – an opportunity to
confront our fears and anxieties and to triumph. This installation seeks correspondences between human life and nature via the psyche and imagination, primarily by cultivating a sense of bewilderment in regard to trees. Bewilderness evokes the familiar and the new, prompting wonder and imaginative recognition, eliciting new relationships. By providing the double presence of tree and flesh we are challenged to reconsider how we relate to trees, and by extension, to other beings and nature.
‘Life is found in animals and plants; but while in animals it is clearly manifest, in plants it is hidden and not evident. For before we can assert the presence of life in plants, a long inquiry must be held as to whether plants possess a soul and a distinguishing capacity for pleasure and pain.’ -Aristotle, On Plants.
My time in Brooke Valley Ontario has been preceded by a considerable amount of time in New York City. So while my initial experiences in the pine plantation are still resonating with me, other experiences are also affecting my perceptions of the plantation. In New York City my feelings of separation from nature, and my work in landscape architecture has underscored the importance of trees. Trees in New York City seem to fall into two primary categories; street trees and trees in city parks. Nearby Prospect Park, with its gently rolling landscape designed by Vaux & Olmsted, is a haven for me. In a city like most, where non-human forms of life seem under-represented, the massive park trees that we take for granted come into sharpest focus when they die. Recent spring storms have left Prospect Park littered with immense fallen trees that were quickly moved off roads and paths and cut into pieces over several weeks. A walk through the Park during this time reveals a scene of scaled up truths – trees lie like beached and dismembered leviathans.
Where the trunk has been sawn in cross-section, expansive pale wounds glow with rawness while adjacent sections of trunks and limbs seem to tell the story of a giant creature felled mid-stride. The life-full-ness of these dismemberments seem to exist in paradox to the lives they lived. Not full of muscle, sinew, blood vessels or a spinal cord, they did not flail, bleed, twitch or scream. They fell and were severed into sections silently – no quivering and steam in the cool spring air. And if they could? If the removal of bark revealed glistening pink flesh? If there was a gentle shuddering as one last breath was exhaled? How would this have changed our world? Can we kill things just because we cannot assess their sentience? How far, ultimately can we extend our notions of “other”? Of the living? Of life?
“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening
This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.
To learn more about Bewilderness on this Blog you can start at the most recent blog and work your way back in time HERE.