Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

We love trees

A real and an imaginary art exhibition about trees.

The exhibition Nous les Arbres (We trees) at the Fondation Cartier in Paris is the latest of many art museum and gallery exhibitions focused on gardens, vegetation, animals, or nature. The exhibition has been a huge success, with record visitors to the gallery and to the related Soirée Nomade. It is wonderful that urban people are so interested in trees, and that nature keeps coming back into the cultural imagination. The choice of artworks is eclectic and interesting, ranging from drawings of the forest by indigenous people from the Gran Chaco in Paraguay, to an installation by Luis Zerbini with a real tree, from Sebastián Mejía’s photographs of sad, absurd palm trees in Santiago, Chile, to scientific drawings from tropical forests by the French botanist Francis Hallé. My favourites were the drawings by indigenous people (several individual artists’ work was shown). It was clear that they knew intimately the shapes, the characters, the relations of the trees they were drawing; they knew the behaviour of the animals, and the different sorts of rain.

What exactly are people doing when they go to a tree-themed art show? It seems to me that the indigenous people along with the professional artists and scientists represented in the show are each being called on to demonstrate, in some way, their personal relationships with trees. These are people who spend time with trees, understand trees, love trees, touch trees, live with trees. People want to experience their testimony about what it is, what it means, to have relationships with trees. Indigenous people, artists, and scientists have become the symbolic intermediaries between nature and humanity. They have relationships with ‘nature’, and the public participates vicariously. Whether this really points to a desire on the part of most people to live with trees, or be trees (as suggested by the exhibition title) themselves, I am not sure. Perhaps as attention to nature in the everyday and over the long term becomes rarer, these mediated and intense interactions in art galleries and museums become the primary form for our social understanding of the nonhuman. Maybe this has long been the case, but the mix of folk art, professional art and science gives this show a particular flavour of hunger and faint desperation—every relation to trees has become mysterious and beyond our grasp, anything and everything about trees is a like a message about a disappeared friend.

The place of trees in cities and in modernity came up in various ways during the series of talks/ interviews at the Soirée Nomade at the Fondation Cartier on July 13th (it seems that a video of the evening will be posted on their facebook page). Francis Hallé claimed that there is a project proposal to create a new primary forest in western Europe, at the Belgian/ French/ German border, which the EU may finance; what this means though, is quite unclear. Primary forests don’t really exist since no forest can be said to never have been transformed by climate events (hurricanes, volcanoes, fires, flooding, etc.) and animal disturbance (large animals crashing through, pulling down, and eating trees and tree saplings, bringing fire, etc.). A forest that functioned like some of the oldest continuously existing forests would take several hundred years to form. Was Francis Hallé talking about a rewilding project to reforest and then restore ecological functioning to a large area using animals like red deer, wisent, moose, cattle, horses, beavers? What about all the people living there, how are they imagined as fitting into a “primary” forest? Is modernity when we make simulacra of forms of nature that never even really existed? We also heard about how to treat urban trees correctly from Caroline Mollie. Philosopher Emanuele Coccia made the point that Stefano Boeri’s Vertical Forest (https://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/project/bosco-verticale/), even if it has been criticized for not giving plants all the space they need to flourish like they would on a flat soil surface, is an important symbol of the idea that nature and modernity do not need to be separate.

This last remark stayed with me because I am going to participate in a collage and silkscreen workshop at the temporary occupation of the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Hospital in Paris, called Les Grands Voisins, to make an image of our imagined ideal city. I was trying to think about what that image would be.

I am not good at thinking about the ideal. When thinking about the ideal I can only think about what it was like to be a child, that powerlessness of childhood that goes along with an imagination unconstrained by genre or judgement, able to create everything and anything. I often felt that the witch’s curse that went along with the freedom to think and dream was the impossibility of any of those things ever being realized. Later it seemed to me that the shady deal you agree to in order to have autonomy and the ability to make things real is that you have to swallow your imagination to pass it through customs. I did come up with some images of the ideal city, thinking about paper dolls and advent calendars. But also, while doing this, I realized I wanted to return to the major preocupation of my childhood, the construction of my own version of everything.

Here, consequently, in homage to the Fondation Cartier show, is my own ideal art exhibition about trees (I think it would also include the drawings from the Chaco): https://pin.it/5bhdei6sfx2fkq

I start with art made by trees, people being trees, art made with trees (amber, charcoal, wood, roots, bark, leaves), portraits of trees, and finally living with trees. Though its an ideal exhibition, it’s certainly not a definitive one.

In approximate order from the bottom of the page upwards:

Tim Knowles, Tree Drawings, Oak on Easel, 2005
Tim Knowles, Tree Drawings, Scots Pine on Easel no. 1, 2006
Ludwig Berger- HOW TO BECOME A GEOPHONOGRAPH (2018)
Cecilia Vicuña Semiya / Frø Quipu (2015)
René Magritte, Découverte, 1927.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, 1622-25
Charles Freger, Wilder Mann. Various photos 2010-2019.
Chemamull (‘wood person’) (funerary statues), unknown Mapuche artists, date unknown.
Coupe aux dauphins, Milieu du XVIIe siècle, Königsberg
A rare Roman amber die
Enrique Zamudio, Espinograma Azul, 1988
Eduardo Chillida Estudio Elogio del Agua I, 1986
Japanese basket with root handle, artist unknown
Kato Toshosai, Honey Bamboo Flower Basket with Root Wood Handle, ca. 1890-1915
Japanese basket with root handle, artist unknown, Meiji period.
Japanese root wood sweets basket, unknown artist, ca. 1900
Nuu-cha-nulth Northwest Coast Peoples, Bark cloak, date unknown
Eduardo Chillida, unknown sculpture
Eduardo Chillida, Besaka, 1987
Ángela Riquelme Elizondo, Arbol de la Vida, 2011.
Edvard Munch, The Kiss IV, 1902
PAUL GAUGUIN, Femmes, Animaux et Feuillages woodcut, 1898
Edvard Munch, Kiss in the Field, 1943
EDUARDO CHILLIDA, Yves Bonnefoy: Une Hélène de vent ou de fumée I-III,1990
Paul Gaugin, Auti te pape 1893-4
Paul Gaugin, L’univers et créé, 1893-4
Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504.
John Hubbard, Stone Group Porthmeor Beach 1977
William Kentridge, This is How the Tree Breaks, 1999
William Kentridge, Terminal Hurt/ Terminal Longing, 1999
Gilbert & George, The Tuileries, 1974
Jean Dubuffet, Le jardinier 1959
David Hockney, Bigger Trees Near Water, 2007
David Hockney, A Closer Winter Tunnel, 2006
David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire 2011, 12 April no. 1, 2011
David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire 2011, 14 May, 2011
David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire 2011, 15 March, 2011
David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire 2011, 18 May, 2011
Eliot Porter, unknown photograph
Eliot Porter, Dogwood and Oak Trees, 1968
Eliot Porter, Redbud Trees in Bottom Land, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, 1968
Eliot Porter, Maple Leaves and Pine Needles, Tamworth, New Hampshire, October 3, 1956
Eliot Porter, unknown photograph
Eliot Porter, Pool in a Brook, Pond Brook, Near Whiteface, New Hampshire, October, 1953,
1953
Giuseppe Penone, L’Arbre des Voyelles, 1999
Harri Lorenzi, Árvores Brasileiras vol. 1, 2, 3, 1992
Leonard Rickhard, Red Figure Against Trees and Shed, 1995-6
Leonard Rickhard, Figures and Acts in the Spring Forest, 2003-4
Henri Matisse, Interior with Egyptian Curtain, 1948
Henri Matisse, Red Interior. Still Life on a Blue Table, 1947
Norman Gilbert, The apple tree, 2008
Norman Gilbert, The back door, 2016
Myr Muratet, Camp à l’abandon, Avenue de Coronel Rol-Tanguy Stains 2010
Myr Muratet, Voile, métro La Chapelle, Paris, 2018
Ron Amir, Bisharah and Anwar's Tree, 2015
Ron Amir, Stand fermé, 2014
Ron Amir, La salle de sport d'Ibarhim Tuayisha, 2015

--Meredith Root-Bernstein, 17 July 2019

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