Performing with Plants – Final Report

Unfortunately I cannot visit Stockholm right now, in these Corona times, despite returning earlier from an ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency in Johannesburg, because I am sitting in quarantine in Helsinki. Thus, I cannot visit the small pine on Hundudden (see image above) that I made acquaintance with in the beginning of the year. But, I have written the final report for the project “Performing with Plants” to Vetenskapsrådet, the Swedish Research Council, in Swedish. It is available in the project archive on the Research Catalogue, at the end of the time line. I add it directly here, too, for those who read Swedish: Slutredogörelse KF 2020-Arlander. Some of the articles are yet to be published and will come out at some point. And I do hope to use the video material in future exhibitions. In fact, however, I am already in the midst of a new project, “Meetings with remarkable and Unremarkable Trees”, which is a further development of the previous project. It has nevertheless a new blog, Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees  and a new archive on the Research Catalogue, here. The small pine on Hundudden is actually part of that new project. I do hope to be able to visit it again, soon …

Performing with Plants – A Summary of Year 2019

The year 2019 was the third year of the artistic research project Performing with Plants, funded by the Swedish Research Council and hosted by Stockholm University of the Arts, although 2019 was actually the second year, because I began the project at Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies during 2017 and commenced for real in Stockholm only in January-February 2018. What I have done in practice is archived – mainly in the form of still images – on the Research catalogue, here. The most important parts I made in Lill-Jansskogen in 2018. This year I only visited one tree regularly, namely a Tatarian maple in Nobelparken, see here. The Stockholm Tree Calendar that I recorded in 2018 has been shown as a calendar on a screen in the entrance on Linnégatan; the material is gathered here. The other experiments have been various, and they are all on the RC as well, here

During the year I organised two small seminars in connection with the project:
Working with the Vegetal III, seminar at Stockholm University of the Arts 4.4 2019, see program here .
Working With the Vegetal IV, seminar at Stockholm University of the Arts 17.10.2019, see program here.
And then a concluding seminar 11.12. 2019 with professors Ellen Røed and Rebecca Hilton as commentators. There I showed two of my video works as examples of what I have been doing during the project, the semi-academic video essay Hanging in a Pine – With Text (19 min 31 sec), here, and the video work Year of the Dog in Lill-Jan’s Wood (Sitting in a Pine) – with text (16 min 50 sec), here, which I probably should call “Dearest Pine” due to the text. The seminar was also the publishing event of the picture book Att Uppträda med Träd – Performing with Trees. X-position n 6. Stockholms Konstnärliga Högskola 2019.

Most of the texts published in 2019 deal with older works, although a few things I have already published on performing with plants. Publications on performing with plants where the material from Stockholm is central are few (so far):
“Visiting a Tree” in Mari Mäkiranta & Maiju Loukola (eds.) Voices: Floating Peripheries Conference 2019 – Site and Situation, see here.
“Performing with a Pine Tree” in Ziegler, Denise (ed.) I Experience as I Experiment – I Experiment as I Experience. Experience and experimentality in artistic work and research. The Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts Helsinki, 2019, 15-26.
“Performing with Plants – Appearing with Elms and Alder”, in Mika Elo, Lea Kantonen  & Petri Kaverma (eds.) Etappeja – Kuvataideakatemian tohtoriohjelma 20 vuotta / Waypoints – The Doctoral Programme at Academy of Fine Arts 20 Years 2019,  33-56.

Articles about performing with plants or trees where I use previous works as examples, however, published in 2019, are more numerous:
“Performing with Trees and the Tide – A Diffractive Reading”, Research in Art Education 3/2019, 14-46, see here.
“Authentic trees? – Artistic research, non-human collaborators and the documentary”, in Quaresma, José (ed.) Research in the Arts. Authenticity, Polymathy and Dissimulation. Lissabon: Museo Archeologico, 83-98.
“Performing as a tourist – with trees”, in Terese Longva & Rita Marhaug (eds.) Between Sky and Sea V: Tourist. Bergen: performance Art Bergen and PABLISH 2018, 128-149.
“It rains – it thinks – it dances”, in Johannes Birringer, Josephine Fenger (Hg./eds.) Tanz der Dinge/Things that dance. Jahrbuch Tanzforschung 2019. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 187-191.
“Resting with Pines in Nida – attempts at performing with plants”, Performance Philosophy vol 4 (2) 2019, 452-475, se here.
“Breathing and Growth – performing with plants”, Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices Volume 10. Number 2.2018, 175-187.

Obviously I have discussed the topic – performing with plants – in other contexts, too, such as in the research project How to do things with performance. A summary, in English, of everything I have done during the year as well as other publications from 2019 are available on my home page, here.

Rainy Day with Full Moon

Only one visit to the Tatarian maple this week, and in drizzling rain. When arriving at the shore I noticed the microphone did not work, obviously the battery was finished. Luckily there is an in-built microphone in the camera, so I could use that. After sitting on the wet branch, feeling the dampness creep onto my skin through my clothes and all the droplets on my face, I returned to the camera only to notice that it had stopped. Did I forget to turn it on? No, “memory full”.  So, what else to do but to erase some old takes and go to sit on the branch a second time. This time the rain seemed heavier and the wind seemed colder, of course. The weather did not feel like December, though.

And only writing this did I notice that I am using English this time; usually, this year, I have written these notes in Swedish. Anyway, no wonder I am slightly out of balance, because this week has seen the “finale” of my project, on some level. On another level, of course not; I will be visiting the Tatarian maple until the middle of January 2020. And surely some other trees, too.

This was not the last image of the maple and me, not even the last one before the Christmas Holidays; I think there will be chance to make one more visit next Monday.

The feeling of a “finale” this week comes from some important events, like presenting the split-screen triptych “Swinging – With a Pine – Hanging” (15 min 28 sec), which is part of the exhibition I Experience as I Experiment – I Experiment as I Experience Experience and experimentality in artistic work and research  at Kuva Research Days in Helsinki on Tuesday. And even more of a final event was the seminar at Stockholm University of the Arts on Wednesday, a whole afternoon, where I was presenting my work, two of the videos with text. The works I showed where “Hanging in a Pine – with text” (19 min 31 sec) and “Year of the Dog in Lill-Jan’s Wood (Sitting in a Pine) with text” (16 min 50 sec). Professors Ellen Roed and Becky Hilton had prepared comments. The discussion was great, with many ideas for me to think about in the future. And that context was also the publishing event of the bilingual picture book Att Uppträda med Träd – Performing with Trees. I was afraid that it would be somehow arrogant to make a picture book of video stills, but now when I saw it, I am very happy about it.

 

Looking at Light in Lill-Jansskogen

In order to prepare my ”extraction” for the Performance – Response – Extraction -project by the Artistic Research Working Group of Performance Studies International,  I returned to the little pine tree in Lill-Jansskogen, where I sat regularly during the year of the dog, 2018. I used the same pine as my collaborator when creating a response to Jennifer Nikolai’s brief description of her dance piece, where ageing dancers experimented with recording live video while performing. Inspired to make a new attempt to befriend my old Gopro I made a small split-screen video ”Moving in a Pine” (3 min 57 sec) to be shown in Calgary, available here.

For the next phase, which will be published on the working group blog, here, I am supposed to extract a core question or issue from Glenn D’Cruz’s response to Michelle Man’s material, which was based on her practice-based PhD project ”Attenuating Light and the Choreographic”, where she acknowledges the increasing luminescence in the world and explores embodied responses to textures of light. And that is not difficult, because he focused on the idea of light and presented a powerpoint called “A day in the Light” (see pdf version A Day in the Light-small file) while discussing symbolic, physical and theatrical meanings and uses of light. So: light! That is the core question to be extracted, that is what plants need, and what the camera needs, too. Light is vital for all of us.

I decided to try a simple approach, and return to the same pine tree in night time and in day time. I remembered that there were strong street lights on the forest path in Lill-Jansskogen for the joggers to be able to run there any time. So, I thought I could record the artificial light in the evening and the daylight in the morning, and that would point directly to the core question, the question of light. Light is of course one of the main requirements for life on the planet in its current forms. Without the spectacular ability of plants to use the energy of sunlight to produce glucose and oxygen from water and carbon dioxide, life would be very different.

I planned to use my Gopro again, and brought it with me to the woods, wearing it while sitting in the pine 9 pm on Friday night. But despite the strong streetlight the camera could not see anything. Video needs much more light than still images. I was about to leave when I remembered that my phone might be able to record video with less light, and sat for two minutes trying to hold it in balance in my hand while sitting in the tree in order to record the view from the pine. The streetlight seemed so strong to my eyes, but not so for the camera (see image above).

When I returned in the morning to make the contrasting image at 9 am, I did not even bother to bring the Gopro, but used my phone instead. The morning was grey, the rain was about to fall at any moment, but compared to the streetlight at night the daylight was strong, although it felt soft. Returning home I edited a split-screen video of these two clips, and called it ”View from a Pine” (2 min 15 sec), available here. And I hope it makes clear my main observation: light is visible when there is too little or too much of it, otherwise we tend to forget it, focus on what it shows us and take it for granted…

 

 

Moving in a Pine

On Sunday 2 June I decided to use the opportunity to make an experiment with my action camera and the little pine tree I sat in regularly during my rounds in Lill-Jansskogen or Little Jan’s Wood last year. I was prompted to do that partly because I am editing the material recorded with the pine tree at the moment – it is the last part of the Year of the Dog in Lill-Jansskogen that remains to be edited – and partly because of the task for the Artistic Research Working Group of PSi (Performance studies international) in Calgary in the beginning of July. We are further developing a mode of working we tried out for the first time last year, with responses to a colleague’s work rather than a presentation of one’s own  (For more information about the process, see the working group archive, here). The material I am supposed to respond to, submitted by Jennifer Nikolai, involves dancers improvising with go pro cameras while dancing or, at least that is how I understood the brief summary. So, I decided to respond by trying out something similar within the scope of my practice, together with the pine. Here is first a photo resembling the one I repeated for a year:

Last year I also made some experiments with the action camera on my forehead while walking in the woods , thinking of my experiments in Nida in September 2017 (see Walking in Nida) but walking in Lill-Jansskogen was not so interesting, and I abandoned the material. Therefore, I was eager to grab the challenge and return to playing with the small action camera and movement. While planning the session I realized that instead of sitting with the camera in the tree, trying to keep the image still or somehow in balance, I could try to repeat some simple movement to produce another kind of stasis. I even tried swinging slowly from one side to the other at home, and decided to try that in the pine. – Well, that was easier said than done. Working with an action camera on your forehead means that you have to imagine the framing and the movement. I made several experiments, and the one where I tried to climb higher in the tree and ”messed around” among the branches with the camera directed downwards, showing my limbs, was interesting in some way. Sitting in the tree ”as usual” was completely uninteresting, especially since a branch blocked most of the view. These observations I made at home after returning from the woods. Since there was plenty of time before sunset I decided to go back to the pine and make another attempt. This time I repeated the slow swinging from one side to the other in at least 18 minutes (with my phone as a timer) to make a video to be combined with the short version of the year with the pine. I succeeded quite well, despite the mosquitoes! The movement is quite modest, however:

In the evening I edited one long version of the swinging (16 min 30 sec) as a pair for the year, and called it Moving in a Pine. Moreover, I also edited a pair to the ”messing around” video (3 min 57 sec). And these two short clips I combined into a split screen video, that I will show as my response in Calgary, Moving in a Pine 1 & 2. I am actually quite happy with that little thing, because it is so different from what I usually do. You can perhaps get an idea from these still images:

Last Visits to Lill-Jansskogen

These three visits at the end of the Chinese year of the dog (14 February 2018 to 3 February 2019) mark also the end of my project in Lill-Jansskogen. As if celebrating this ending my first peer-reviewed journal article explicitly from this project was published in Performance Philosophy Journal 4:2 (2019) and can be found online, here: “Resting with Pines in Nida – attempts at performing with plants”. The quote from an article by philosopher Michael Marder, which I cite in that text is the same that I cited in my research proposal. The encounters with pine trees that serve as the material for the article took place in September 2017, quite a while ago. Let’s see if it takes equally long to publish something about these works; here are nevertheless the final “field notes”:

On Friday morning the sky was grey, the weather was serene in some way, only later in the afternoon the snow fall began. While I was sitting on my second spruce stump a dog was particularly interested in what I was doing, and came very close, barking hard. I could not see it but only hear, and have to admit that I was a little scared, too. Luckily this was at the end of my session so after a while I got up and tried to calm the dog, and its owner, who was slightly embarrassed for its eagerness. There are always plenty of dogs, and they are much more open in their curiosity than humans, but this one was clearly worried:

On Saturday morning there was plenty of new snow, all very wet, perfect for snow balls or for building a snowman. The wet snow was falling down from the branches, you could hear bumps all around, and sometimes I had a lump of wet snow hitting my head. The snow under the spruces looked strangely yellow, not the normal animal piss, but large areas, as if the snow falling through the needles would turn yellow, somehow – a strange effect:

On Sunday the snowfall stopped conveniently before my last visit, but it had been snowing quite a lot during the night – everything was covered in thick layers of fresh white snow. I was not the first one walking on the main path, though. To get an idea of the amount of snow I took a photo from my first stop, from where I was sitting on the spruce stump:

These were the last visits to the spruce stumps and pine trees in Lill-Jansskogen, and also the last images of the videos that I will now start compiling and editing. For the conference Floating Peripheries at University of Lapland and for the Uniarts Research Week I already made a first attempt with the hanging and swinging images, using the clips up until Christmas. Now, when I wanted to add the images recorded in January I realized the session recorded on 25th January, the one with heavy snowfall, was missing. The still-images captured from the videos were there in the folder where they should be, but the video clips were nowhere to be found. I looked in all likely and unlikely folders, in my Dropbox, the other external hard drives, no! I must have destroyed them by mistake, how irritatingly stupid of me! I tried to insert the still-images in the video, and of course that could be done, but is hardly worth it, I guess. Now I only hope that the clips will turn up somewhere, but if not, well, that’s life, as they say…. Here are nevertheless the last still images from my three last visits:

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Swinging

Hanging

To end with I add images of the camera tripod (the camera I had to remove, in order to take the images, of course) on the four sites, on the last day, when some of the rocks and markers I normally used were completely covered in snow. I apologize for the advertisement, but this huge plastic bag has followed me now for more than two years – it is very convenient, not only for carrying the tripod and the camera bag, but for putting your coat in while posing. I should have taken these photos with my phone in order to include my camera – it is definitely my main collaborator besides the trees, but perhaps you can imagine it on the tripod:

  

  

Snow, Snow and… More Snow

 

This was an exciting week, comprising Stockholm Uniarts research week from Tuesday 22 to Friday 25 January, with lots of program, including my presentation, in two parts, called “Performing with a Pine Tree”. I had a slot on Tuesday after lunch, at DOCH, and invited people to join me in visiting the pine tree that I have been hanging from, and to try hanging or swinging from it, too. I recorded them with my video camera and edited a small video for the second part, on the next day, at Operahögskolan. Because I did not ask for permission to show the material in public, I will not post the video here, but there are some photos taken by a photographer commissioned by Uniarts on instagram, from Tuesday and Wednesday As well. It was great that so many people joined med and walked into the forest in the soft snow fall, standing silently watching, when some people tried hanging from the tree. There were not as many people in the small seminar room the following day, and my presentation was probably a little hurried and confused. Luckily I had the sense to put the timer on so we had 15 minutes for discussion, and I had some interesting feedback. Juliette Mapp spoke about looking up at the tree as important, Becky Hilton mentioned the term deep site, and saw the swinging as an intervention compared to the versions where I am being still, which are engaging with ‘nature time’. Ellen Roed suggested that I should try editing without cross-fades to avoid the double movement that they create, and I was asked about the broken branch and so on. Cilla Roos asked about my experiences, and if I am going to write about them. I said no, not really, because I do not think that my experiences are the main point, but later I realized that of course I am using them while writing… There was much to think about. Because my practice is so slow and solitary, these moments when I have questions and comments on what I am doing, are very, very important. I guess I will try to write a voice-over text about the broken branch for the swinging video…

And here are the images. They are not the last ones, I will visit the stumps and the trees a few more times next week, but we are near to the end of the year of the dog…

Thursday morning

Friday morning

Saturday morning

 

Swinging

Hanging

Winter Feeling

Three days of cold in a row – and more to come! The paths are covered with ice, and really slippery; luckily I have ”winter tires” to add onto my heels. They stop me from sliding quite well, provided I walk in a funny way hitting my heels into the ground on every step. The image above might seem like the remains of some Christmas trees still withering away in heeps in street corners. They are, however, the remains of one of the many spruces felled by the storm Alfrida, right next to the site of the tripod on the second stop on my walk in the woods.

This weekend I have had a lot of exercise, due to my ”double practice”, beginning with my walk in the woods in Lill-Jansskogen, then continuing to Nobelparken to visit my new tree for this year, stopping for lunch on the way, and then returning back to DOCH to upload the images. During this weekend I stopped at Linnégatan, too, and now I have moved all my things there – they were not so many, though. The only thing remaining by my old desk (except the stuff in the locker) is the house plant I bought when I installed myself there this time last year. At Linnégatan I have a big room on my own, and it is convenient to be near the seminar spaces. I will miss the atmosphere at DOCH, I guess, and the woods. But there will be new things… that is something I have learned to like by now, change!

Perhaps that is why I am so attached to repetition as a method or tool; when everything changes, it is nice to keep some things fixed, at least for a while, like a year. But on the other hand I have really exhausted this method; since several years I have been looking for some new approach. If I cannot find a useful alternative to these rough time-lapse works, at least I should focus on shorter time periods, like a day and night.

There are only a few more sessions to do this year, the year of the dog, and then I will start editing the material and thinking of some possible text or music to add to it. So, rather than planning how to produce more material, I should try to look at what could be done with the material that I already have gathered.

Here are the usual images, in winter light:

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

And then the ones with some movement, with the old pine on the hill:

Swinging

Hanging

A first raw edit of these ones with the old pine – but only up to Christmas – I presented at the conference in Rovaniemi in the beginning of the week and they are the ones I will show and tell about tomorrow and on Wednesday at the Uniarts research week.

 

 

After Alfrida

The first working week in Stockholm in the year 2019 and the first visits to Lill-Jansskogen provided quite a shock – the storm Alfrida really had left its marks; plenty of trees lying around uprooted, and many trees also cut into pieces because they had fallen across the path or on electric lines. But what am I doing in the woods now, in this new year? Well, I forgot about it at first, but I really started these visits only in February 2018, after the Chinese New Year, so of course I have to go on until the end of the year of the dog, that is, during January. As I mentioned in my last post last year, I am going to present a preliminary roughly edited version of these visits – or actually only one of them – at the Floating Peripheries – Sites and Situations conference in University of Lapland in Rovaniemi next week, and at our own Research Week at Stockholm University of the Arts on 22 January.

The work I am going to focus on is the third stop on my round, swinging and hanging from the tall pine tree. I began editing the swinging and noticed that at some point in late spring I had changed the frame rate of my recording. First I thought I had made a mistake, but realized I had actually changed it to make the swinging look better – probably someone had given me the advice, although I cannot remember who, anymore. I found a way to combine the two different materials, but the beginning, which is recorded with 25 fps looks more clumsy, while the swinging during the rest of the year, recorded with 50 fps, looks much smoother. In still images one cannot see any difference, of course. So here they come, the rainy day, on Tuesday, which seemed rather scary for January, then the chilly Wednesday, when there was ice everywhere, and the even more chilly Thursday. Only in the second image you can see some tree trunks in the foreground and some further away in the background.

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Up on the hill, with the pine trees, the storm had not left that many marks:

Swinging

Hanging

These snapshots from the woods will hopefully give you an idea of the devastation:

 

 

 

Performing with Plants in 2018 – a summary

Year 2018 was the second year of the artistic research project Performing with plants, funded by the Swedish Research Council, although in actual fact it was the first year, because I began the project at Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies in 2017 and really started working in Stockholm only in January-February 2018. The practical work I have archived – mostly as still images – on the Research Catalogue, here. The main parts are the repeated visits to specific spruce stumps and pine trees in Lill-Jansskogen and the singular encounters with trees for the Stockholm Tree Calendar as well as “other experiments”.

This year I organized two small seminars:
Working with the Vegetal – seminar at Stockholm University of the Arts 23.5 2018, se program here.
Working With the Vegetal II, seminar at Stockholm University of the Arts, Linnégatan 87 on 29.11.2018, se program here.

Most of the texts that have been published in 2018 are concerned with earlier work, although something small has already come out on performing with plants.

Publications on performing with plants:
— “Artistic Research as Situated Practice – Performing with Lichen” in José Quaresma (ed.) Investigação em Artes – A necessidade das ideias artísticas / Research in the Arts – The need for artistic ideas, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa 2018, pp 27-42.
— “Performing with Plants” in Leena Rouhiainen (ed.) Perilous Experience CARPA 5 Colloquium Proceedings, Nivel 09 2018 here

Presentations and events on performing with plants:
– “Artistic Research as Situated Practice – Performing with Lichen”, video lecture at the conference and book release Research in the Arts – the need for artistic ideas, at Museo Arceologico de Carmo, Lissabon 27. 11.2018
– “Performing with plants” in the series Frank Professors, Academy of Fine Arts Exhibition Laboratory, 9.10.2018.
– “Rainy Day in Rekdal”, installation and presentation at the symposium Tanz Der Dinge / Things that dance at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 5-7.10.2018.
– “Trees in Victoria“. Summer exhibition in the old Telegraph on Harakka Island 3.-12.8.2018.
– “Puiden kanssa Helsingin puistoissa” [With Trees in the Parks of Helsinki], presentation at the Finnish Urban Studies Conference, Tieteiden talo [House of Sciences], Helsinki 3-4.5.2018
– Video and presentation at Radical Relevances conference, Aalto University 25-27.4. 2018.
– Installation of “Rainy Day in Rekdal” and “Grey Day in Rekdal” at the Learning Center of Aalto University during the conference Radical Relevances 25-27.4.2018
– Presentation at the open seminar of Research in Arts and Experience at Aalto University 26 .3.2018.

Of course I have touched at the topic – performing with plants – in other contexts, too, for instance with the research project How to do things with performance. A summary of everything else I have done during the year as well as my other publications is available on my website, here.