What is nearly lost? / Qu’est-ce qui est presque perdu?

chokecherry 2018 August 12, cf. related to skwt’thang’-ilhch (with the ‘a’ symbol reversed) for bitter cherry [SENĆOŦEN], cf. lhex̱wlhéx̱w, thuxwun [Hul’q’umi’num’], Prunus virginia, Grandma Bay, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island. This beautiful little tree, perhaps 6 metres in height, is producing an exceptional bounty of ripe chokecherries this year (the little red dots in the image) in part because sea level rise has washed away half of its roots. So these chokecherries, many that fell on to the beach and half of which were harvested and planted in the neighbourhood, could well be it’s last — especially if a winter storm in coming years were to was away the tree. photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
The ‘presque perdu’ project focuses on wild and traditional fruit trees around the Northern Hemisphere: what they are botanically and how they look; the roles they play in ecosystems, human nutrition, legions of local and cosmopolitan cultures; current and potential relationships with contemporary aesthetics, public spaces, and urban habitat; the divergent communal experiences of these fruit trees in rural Europe and parts of East and South Asia, on one hand, and, the destruction erasure of many of these orchards created and owned by indigenous communities; the roles of fruit trees more broadly in cultural memory; and the difficulties and opportunities of defending and re-establishing these orchards of ecologically strategic pollinators in the wake of climate change, loss of biological diversity, and the spread of toxic compounds.

Le projet «presque perdu» se concentre sur les arbres fruitiers sauvages et traditionnels autour de l’hémisphère nord: ce qu’ils sont botaniquement et à quoi ils ressemblent; les rôles qu’ils jouent dans les écosystèmes, la nutrition humaine, les légions de cultures locales et cosmopolites; les relations actuelles et potentielles avec l’esthétique contemporaine, les espaces publics et l’habitat urbain; les expériences communautaires divergentes de ces arbres fruitiers en Europe rurale et dans certaines parties de l’Asie de l’Est et du Sud, d’une part, et l’effacement par destruction de nombreux vergers créés et possédés par des communautés autochtones; le rôle des arbres fruitiers plus largement dans la mémoire culturelle; et les difficultés et les possibilités de défendre et de rétablir ces vergers de pollinisateurs écologiquement stratégiques à la suite des changements climatiques, de la perte de diversité biologique et de la propagation de composés toxiques.

 

crabapple 2018 September 16 ripe Pacific crabapple fruit, KÁ,EW [SENĆOŦEN], Qwa’up-ulhp [Hul’q’umi’num’], Malus fusca, below the group campsites at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island. With several old groves of crabapple just above this rocky short, there may well have been some cross-pollinating with a 19th century orchard (now largely gone) with a volunteer pear tree, on a ledge [impossible for it to be cultivate] and some other possible hybrids.
This multi-media exploration of what is ‘nearly lost’, the <<perdu>>, is rooted in Proust’s quintessentially unreliable narrator along with his love of pear, apple, and hawthorn trees at the peak of the French colonial empire[1]. But while the past, as in ‘lost time’ is gone, these resilient little trees, cultivated or just persisting in less tended and wilder margins of communities, continue to keep the biosphere functioning, bees making honey, and people eating fruit.

Cette exploration multimédia de ce qui est «presque perdu», le «perdu», trouve son origine dans le narrateur par excellence, peu fiable, de Proust, avec son amour de la poire, de la pomme et des aubépines au sommet de l’empire colonial français[2]. Mais alors que le passé, comme dans le «temps perdu» a disparu, ces petits arbres résilients, cultivés ou persistant dans des marges de communautés moins tendues, continuent de faire fonctionner la biosphère, les abeilles fabriquant du miel et les gens mangeant des fruits.

 

hazelnut 2018 Sept 16 volunteer hazelnut on Beaver Point Road, Salt Spring Island, qwp’áxw, qwp’axw-ilhch) (with ‘x’s underlined)[SENĆOŦEN], P’pw’axw [Hul’q’umi’num’] cf Corylus cornuta var. californica. This is the closest reproducing found so far to the following record for the same species (Accession: V765871, 12 May 1957 – T.R. Ashlee Institution: UBC, Location: Saltspring Island, Beaver Point Hall http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Corylus%20cornuta). Two other confirmed populations of this ‘variety’ in the area, with possible signs of human management and selection, are on Yellow Island to the south-east, beyond San Juan Island, and Goldstream Provincial Park at the south end of Saanich Inlet to the south-west.
So what has really been lost? In delving into these fruit around the Northern Hemisphere, a great deal of cultural memory is being lost related to fruit trees — especially for indigenous communities in jurisdictions such as British Columbia where well-tended orchards were never recognized by the state and have largely been destroyed[3]. Recovering that world, the agriculture, the visual culture, and the living cultures are a huge part of this ‘presque perdu‘. There is sufficient amount of history and remaining knowledge form elders to re-establish these orchards — and too many legal bases and cultural imperatives not to. And around the world, too many orchards continue to be destroyed or converted to simplified ecosystems doused with poison. And for Proust’s somewhat nostalgic ‘lost time’, fin de siècle and imperial France was a difficult place for most people, notably peasants, workers, and colonial subject, with pear and hawthorn blossoms only small consolations. And is Proust’s melancholy rooted in absence (and sexual repression) largely a foil for inability to engage with the present and solve current problems — almost reducing moments of beauty to small consolations?

Alors qu’est-ce qui a vraiment été perdu? En fouillant dans l’hémisphère nord, on perd beaucoup de mémoire culturelle liée aux arbres fruitiers – en particulier pour les communautés autochtones comme la Colombie-Britannique, où les vergers bien entretenus n’ont jamais été reconnus par l’État[4]. Retrouver ce monde, l’agriculture, la culture visuelle et les cultures vivantes constituent une grande partie de ce «presque perdu». Il y a suffisamment d’histoire et de savoirs anciens pour rétablir ces vergers – et trop de bases juridiques et d’impératifs culturels pour ne pas le faire. Et dans le monde entier, trop de vergers continuent à être détruits ou convertis en écosystèmes simplifiés arrosés de poison. Et pour le «temps perdu» quelque peu nostalgique de Proust, la fin de siècle et la France impériale étaient un lieu difficile pour la plupart des gens, notamment paysans, ouvriers et sujets coloniaux, les fleurs de poirier et d’aubépine n’étant que de petites consolations. Et la mélancolie de Proust s’enracine-t-elle dans l’absence (et la répression sexuelle), en grande partie une impossibilité à s’engager dans le présent et à résoudre les problèmes actuels – réduisant presque les moments de beauté à de petites consolations?

 

2018 crabapple fruit drawing by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

Experiences of loss and ‘near loss’ have not been confined to intensifying disappearance of habitat, species, and wild and traditional fruit trees – or even Proust’s nostalgia for the last vestiges of the Second French Empire and the early days of the La IIIe République. While Proust was ruminating over the shift to modern agricultural landscapes, indigenous communities around the globe were being destroyed. While suffering inequities and losses as a gay man enduring constant anti-semitism, Proust makes scant mention of the ravages of the French state and the chauvinism of Paris and other Western European cultures.

Les expériences de perte et de «quasi-perte» ne se sont pas limitées à l’intensification de la disparition d’habitats, d’espèces et d’arbres fruitiers sauvages et traditionnels – ni même à la nostalgie de Proust pour les derniers vestiges du Second Empire et des premiers temps de la IIIe République. Alors que Proust réfléchissait au passage aux paysages agricoles modernes, les communautés autochtones du monde entier étaient détruites. Tout en souffrant d’inégalités et de pertes en tant qu’homosexuel subissant un antisémitisme constant, Proust ne mentionne guère les ravages de l’État français et le chauvinisme de Paris et des autres cultures de l’Europe occidentale.

 

hawthorn 2018 August 10, meyt’than7ihch (with the ‘a’ reversed)[SENĆOŦEN], Metth’unulhp [Hul’q’umi’num’], black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var douglasii, on Burgoyne Bay Road, Salt Spring Island by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
Today, there are new losses on the horizon especially from climate change. And as ecosystems become more vulnerable, we are seeing the swan song of Proust’s consumer aesthetic largely based on the wealth of empires and a century and a half of avoiding manual labour especially work on the land. But the losses to indigenous communities and cultures throughout the world, from population numbers to languages to community memory to persistent constraints on the protection of traditional knowledge and scientific innovation, continue to persist. While today, we are experience a resurgence of indigenous communities and governments, in many parts of the world[5], I have already seen, personally, three cycles of activism and public interest in Pacific Canada followed by indifference and more sophisticated forms of erasure and exoticization.

Aujourd’hui, il y a de nouvelles pertes à l’horizon, en particulier du changement climatique. Et comme les écosystèmes deviennent plus vulnérables, nous voyons le chant du cygne de l’esthétique du consommateur de Proust largement basé sur la richesse des empires et un siècle et demi d’éviter le travail manuel en particulier le travail sur la terre. Mais les pertes subies par les communautés et les cultures autochtones dans le monde entier, des populations aux langues, à la mémoire de la communauté et aux contraintes persistantes sur la protection des savoirs traditionnels et des innovations scientifiques, persistent. Alors qu’aujourd’hui, nous assistons à une résurgence des communautés autochtones et des gouvernements, dans de nombreuses régions du monde[6], j’ai déjà vu personnellement trois cycles d’activisme et d’intérêt public dans le Canada du Pacifique suivis par l’indifférence et des formes plus sophistiquées d’effacement et d’exotisation.

 

crabapple 2018 May 1 KÁ,EW [SENĆOŦEN], Qwa’up-ulhp [Hul’q’umi’num’], Malus fusca blooming on the south side of Beaver Point, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
At the core of the ‘presque perdu’ project is exploring the loss of indigenous orchards and related horticultural sites, along with respective traditional knowledge, on the West Coast of Canada. As both a public artist[7] and ecological scientist[8] and designer, this loss, and attempts to recover site and knowledge, has had a central bearing on my work. Growing up in a relatively assimilated and middle-class, Métis family, in a majority Salish community, efforts to recover and re-establish land stewardship and cultivation shaped my childhood — as well as having to witness racist violence (including directed at a parent), walking the lines of an Indian Reserve, being exposed to but barely speaking a number of disappearing indigenous language (SENĆOŦEN, Chinook, and a French dialect that was close to Michif), and having inspiring mentoring by elders. But with all of the advantages, the sense of loss, the immensity of what is permanently gone in terms of knowledge and locales, continues to haunt me. And fully understanding the extent of these orchards and their disappearance (and persistence) becomes a sort of cultural murder mystery.

Au cœur du projet «presque perdu», on explore la perte de vergers indigènes et de sites horticoles connexes, ainsi que les connaissances traditionnelles respectives, sur la côte ouest du Canada. En tant qu’artiste public[9] et scientifique et concepteur écologique[10], cette perte et ces tentatives de récupération de sites et de connaissances ont eu une influence déterminante sur mon travail. Ayant grandi dans une famille métisse relativement assimilée et appartenant à la classe moyenne, dans une communauté salish majoritaire, les efforts pour retrouver et rétablir la gestion et la culture des terres ont façonné mon enfance et ont été témoins de violence raciste ), marchant dans les limites d’une réserve indienne, s’exposant mais parlant à peine un certain nombre de langues indigènes en voie de disparition (SENĆOŦEN, Chinook et un dialecte français proche du Michif) et bénéficiant d’un mentorat inspirant des aînés. Mais avec tous les avantages, le sentiment de perte, l’immensité de ce qui a disparu en permanence en termes de connaissances et de lieux continuent de me hanter. Et comprendre pleinement l’étendue de ces vergers et leur disparition (et leur persistance) devient une sorte de mystère de meurtre culturel.

trigon, a fundamental element of Northwest Coast visual language — both on the south and north coasts by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

But unpacking losses and participating in the more profound forms of cultural resurgence is not linear and certainly not assured. Art can sometimes be a playful space to deal with painful topics. Breaking down lines between media and between indigenous and contemporary aesthetic movements can be fun. And so much of deeper forms of loss, in Western and not necessarily indigenous, culture has been tied to notions of an Apocalypse. But for indigenous communities, and artists, the Apocalypse has happened over the last five hundred years and even with a future of intensifying climate change, loss of biodiversity, and chaotic forms of globalization[11], things cannot get much worse than what our communities have survived. So while indigenous resurgence and state tolerance may wax and wane, ancient communities and cultural traditions deeply rooted in the local and the land will   survive and sometimes recover. And aesthetic gestures can be one route to reimagine what was nearly but was not completely lost.

Mais déballer les pertes et participer aux formes plus profondes de résurgence culturelle n’est pas linéaire et certainement pas assuré. L’art peut parfois être un espace ludique pour traiter des sujets douloureux. Briser les lignes entre les médias et entre les mouvements esthétiques autochtones et contemporains peut être amusant. Et tant de formes plus profondes de perte, dans la culture occidentale et pas nécessairement indigène, ont été liées aux notions d’Apocalypse. Mais pour les communautés autochtones et les artistes, l’Apocalypse s’est produite au cours des cinq cents dernières années et même avec un avenir d’intensification du changement climatique, de perte de biodiversité et de formes chaotiques de la mondialisation[12], ainsi, alors que la résurgence des populations indigènes et la tolérance de l’État peuvent croître et disparaître, les anciennes communautés et les traditions culturelles profondément enracinées dans la région et la terre vont survivre et parfois se rétablir. Et les gestes esthétiques peuvent être un moyen de réinventer ce qui était presque mais n’a pas été complètement perdu.

 

chokecherry 2018 May 3 cf. related to skwt’thang’-ilhch (with the ‘a’ symbol reversed) for bitter cherry [SENĆOŦEN], cf. lhex̱wlhéx̱w, thuxwun [Hul’q’umi’num’], Prunus virginia, in the lower part of the original 1971 Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Landscape, Salt Spring Island, by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
There is a cleavage explored in the ‘presque perdu’ between the horrific losses of indigenous communities, from populations to knowledge to options for relaxation, on one hand, and the precarious near future where little fruit trees may make a huge difference around urban liveability and the survival of local ecosystems as well as food production for human health. So many orchards were effectively destroyed in the twentieth century and so much of what we love is threatened in these times. But these little trees, these ‘heavy lifters’ in the worlds of ecosystems, diet, and aesthetics, in deed human experience, show no signs of disappearing. And these little trees give us fruit as existential gifts, that even with the stresses and crises of which we are increasingly confronted, show few signs of being entirely. What has been ‘nearly lost’ are these wild hedges, the traditional knowledge, the sense of rights to these ecosystems as part of healthy communities, and the quiet moments to enjoy some unowned, feral fruit from a roadside, and those random moments to enjoy the apple blossoms drift by. But this project show how these beautiful trees and nourishing fruit can transform the world.

Il y a un clivage exploré dans le «presque perdu» entre les pertes terribles des communautés autochtones, des populations aux connaissances en passant par les options de détente, et l’avenir proche précaire où les petits arbres fruitiers peuvent faire une énorme différence la survie des écosystèmes locaux ainsi que la production alimentaire pour la santé humaine. Tant de vergers ont été effectivement détruits au XXe siècle et une grande partie de ce que nous aimons est menacée à cette époque. Mais ces petits arbres, ces «gros porteurs» dans les mondes des écosystèmes, de l’alimentation et de l’esthétique, dans l’expérience humaine, ne montrent aucun signe de disparition. Et ces petits arbres nous donnent des fruits en tant que dons existentiels qui, même avec les tensions et les crises auxquelles nous sommes de plus en plus confrontés, montrent peu de signes d’être totalement. Ce qui a été «presque perdu», ce sont les haies sauvages, le savoir traditionnel, le sens des droits sur ces écosystèmes dans le cadre de communautés saines et les moments tranquilles pour profiter de fruits sauvages et sans propriétaire sur la route. les fleurs de pommiers dérivent. Mais ce projet montre comment ces beaux arbres et ces fruits nourrissants peuvent transformer le monde.

chokecherry 2018 August 13 cf. related to skwt’thang’-ilhch (with the ‘a’ symbol reversed) for bitter cherry [SENĆOŦEN], cf. lhex̱wlhéx̱w, thuxwun [Hul’q’umi’num’], Prunus virginia, Fulford Harbour near Fulford Creek, Salt Spring Island, by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
notes

[1] So far, I have been working with the following English-language translations of the six volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu: Marcel Proust. (1913) 2002. Swann’s Way. (Lydia Davis translation). New York: Penguin.; Marcel Proust. 2003 (1993, 1919) Within A Budding Grove. (In Search of Lost Time Volume II). (C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright translators). New York: Random House / Modern Library.; Marcel Proust. 2003 (1992, 1921). The Guermantes Way. (In Search of Lost Time Volume III). (C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright translators). New York: Random House / Modern Library.; and Marcel Proust. 2003 (1993, 1922). Sodom and Gomorrah (In Search of Lost Time Volume IV). (C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright translators). New York: Random House / Modern Library.

[2] Jusqu’à présent, j’ai travaillé avec les traductions anglaises suivantes des six volumes de À la recherche du temps perdu: Marcel Proust. (1913) 2002. Swann’s Way. (Lydia Davis translation). New York: Penguin.; Marcel Proust. 2003 (1993, 1919). Within A Budding Grove. (In Search of Lost Time Volume II). (C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright translators). New York: Random House / Modern Library.; Marcel Proust. 2003 (1992, 1921). The Guermantes Way. (In Search of Lost Time Volume III). (C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright translators). New York: Random House / Modern Library.; et Marcel Proust. 2003 (1993, 1922). Sodom and Gomorrah (In Search of Lost Time Volume IV). (C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright translators). New York: Random House / Modern Library.

[3] The best introduction to the suppression of indigenous orchards in north-western North America, is in the anthology, Douglas Deur and Nancy J. Turner (eds). 2005. Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America. Vancouver: UBC Press / Seattle: University of Seattle Press, with a wonderful, recent example of confirming and recovering these sites and respective knowledge, Wyllie de Echeverria, Victoria. 2013. Moolks (Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca) on the North Coast of British Columbia: Knowledge and meaning in Gitga’at Culture. MSc thesis University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia. https://dspace.library.uvic.ca/handle/1828/4596.

[4] La meilleure introduction à la suppression des vergers indigènes du nord-ouest de l’Amérique du Nord se trouve dans l’anthologie, Douglas Deur and Nancy J. Turner (eds). 2005. Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America. Vancouver: UBC Press / Seattle: University of Seattle Press, avec un merveilleux exemple récent de confirmation et de récupération de ces sites et de leurs connaissances respectives, Wyllie de Echeverria, Victoria. 2013. Moolks (Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca) on the North Coast of British Columbia: Knowledge and meaning in Gitga’at Culture. MSc thesis University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia. https://dspace.library.uvic.ca/handle/1828/4596.

[5] One example of indigenous resurgence theorizing, particularly relevant to north-western North America, is the highly influential, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. 2017. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, where she argues that, “We cannot carry out the kind of decolonization our Ancestors set in motion if we don’t create a generation of land-based, community-based intellectuals and cultural producers who are accountable to our nations and whose life work is concerned with the regeneration of these systems rather than meeting the overwhelming needs of the Western academic complex or attempting to ‘Indigenize the academy’ by bringing Indigenous Knowledge into the academy on the terms of the academy itself…The land must again become the pedagogy.” (pages 159-160).

[6] Un exemple de la théorisation de la résurgence indigène, particulièrement pertinente pour le nord-ouest de l’Amérique du Nord, est la très influente, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. 2017. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, où elle soutient que, “We cannot carry out the kind of decolonization our Ancestors set in motion if we don’t create a generation of land-based, community-based intellectuals and cultural producers who are accountable to our nations and whose life work is concerned with the regeneration of these systems rather than meeting the overwhelming needs of the Western academic complex or attempting to ‘Indigenize the academy’ by bringing Indigenous Knowledge into the academy on the terms of the academy itself…The land must again become the pedagogy.” (fiches 159-160).

[7] While growing in a community engaged in a mid-twentieth century form of ‘indigenous modernism’, focused on the re-establishment of large outdoor works (and on-going production) in public space, the work in this project has been influenced by an arc going back to early land art with, Dennis Oppenheim’s 1969, “Directed Seeding – Cancelled crop” installed in the Netherlands (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/oppenheim-directed-seeding-cancelled-crop-t12402); Alan Sonfist’s 1978, “Time Landscape”; and Joseph Beuys’ 1982, “7000 Eichen – Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung / 7000 Oaks – City Forestation Instead of City Administration.” And more recently, Omaskêko Cree conceptualist, Duane Linklater and Ron Benner have made site-based works acknowledging indigenous presence, cultivation, and ‘gardens’.

[8] For an example of contemporary, multimedia artistic practices that engage in science as research and as aesthetics, see the following discussion of a garden of the late Helen Harrison and Newton Harrison, Jonathon Keats. 2018. Eco-Art Or Science? Helen And Newton Harrison Are Sculpting Earth Systems To Endure Climate Change. Forbes (August 21, 2018).  https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2018/08/21/helen-newton-harrison-santa-cruz/#3e4f77207214

[9] En grandissant dans une communauté engagée dans une forme de «modernisme indigène» du milieu du vingtième siècle, axée sur le rétablissement de grandes œuvres de plein air (et de la production en cours) dans l’espace public, le travail dans ce projet a été influencé par un arc retourner à landart avec, Dennis Oppenheim, 1969, “Directed Seeding – Cancelled crop” installé aux Pays-Bas (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/oppenheim-directed-seeding-cancelled-crop-t12402); Alan Sonfist 1978, “Time Landscape”; and Joseph Beuys 1982; et Joseph Beuys 1982, “7000 Eichen – Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung / 7000 Oaks – City Forestation Instead of City Administration.” Et plus récemment, Cree Omaskêko conceptualiste, Duane Linklater et Ron Benner ont réalisé des travaux sur site reconnaissant la présence, la culture et les «jardins» autochtones.

[10] Pour un exemple de pratiques artistiques contemporaines et multimédias qui se livrent à la science en tant que recherche et en tant qu’esthétique, voir la discussion suivante sur un jardin de feu Helen Harrison et Newton Harrison, Jonathon Keats. 2018. Eco-Art Or Science? Helen And Newton Harrison Are Sculpting Earth Systems To Endure Climate Change. Forbes (August 21, 2018). https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2018/08/21/helen-newton-harrison-santa-cruz/#3e4f77207214

[11] A recent essay by Matias Viegner on the constraints on multimedia artistic production in the context of neoliberalism:

Matias Viegener. 2015. Speculative Futures: Social practice, cognitive capitalism and / or the triumph of capital. in Informal Market Worlds: The Architecture of Economic Pressure. Peter Mörtenböeck and Helge Mooshammer (eds.). Rotterdam: nai010.  http://mviegener.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Viegener-Matias-Speculative-Futures-Social-Practice-Cognitive-Capitalism-andor-the-Triumph-of-Capital.pdf

[12] Un récent essai de Matias Viegner sur les contraintes de la production artistique multimédia dans le contexte du néolibéralisme: Matias Viegener. 2015. Speculative Futures: Social practice, cognitive capitalism and / or the triumph of capital. in Informal Market Worlds: The Architecture of Economic Pressure. Peter Mörtenböeck and Helge Mooshammer (eds.). Rotterdam: nai010. http://mviegener.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Viegener-Matias-Speculative-Futures-Social-Practice-Cognitive-Capitalism-andor-the-Triumph-of-Capital.pdf

old apple variety and possible Malus pumila cross with Malus fusca 9 2018 May 3, former private, cleared parcel acquired in 2011 for habitat protection and adjacent to the lower point of the 1971 Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Landscape, Salt Spring Island, by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

Support for this ongoing project, including documentation posted on this web-installation, came from the Canada Council for the Arts in 2015 and 2017.

L’appui à ce projet en cours, y compris la documentation affichée sur cette installation Internet, est venu du Conseil des arts du Canada en 2015 et en 2017.

crabapple 2018 Sept 16 KÁ,EW [SENĆOŦEN], Qwa’up-ulhp [Hul’q’umi’num’], Malus fusca, a key grove on Burgoyne Bay, very vulnerable to sea level rise which has already killed a tree, and near the historic and ongoing Cowichan village of Xwaaqw’um, Salt Spring Island, by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

presque perdu | nearly lost: Reinscribing wild & traditionally stewarded fruit trees of the Northern Hemisphere

blossoms of Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca, Ruckle Provincial Park 2018 May 1 Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

Around the Northern Hemisphere, species in four circumpolar (and Beringian) genera of  fruit trees, Malus (apple), Prunus (cherry), Corylus (hazelnut), and Crataegus (hawthorn), provide crucial ecological and aesthetic ‘services’ as well as fruit, medicine, and wood. Over the last 10,000 years, these species have been important in human survival — on both sides of the Pacific. And as these trees have adapted to human beings, there have been diverse forms of relationships and ‘domestications’ between both plants and humans. As urban ecosystems have degraded in both Eurasia and North America, these small trees have often persisted and provide new opportunities for environmental restoration, green spaces, and food production — as well as cultural renewal. This project is about the decolonial arts and sciences of re-establishing and expanded these historic groves and orchards.

ripe chokecherry fruit, lhex̱wlhéx̱w & thuxwun [Halkomelem], Prunus virginiana, above Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island – photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram 2018 August 13

Les espèces de quatre genres circumpolaires (et béringiens) d’arbres fruitiers de l’hémisphère nord, Malus (pomme), Prunus (cerise), Corylus (noisette) et Crataegus (aubépine) fournissent des «services» écologiques et esthétiques cruciaux ainsi que des fruits et des médicaments. et du bois. Au cours des 10 000 dernières années, ces espèces ont joué un rôle important dans la survie humaine – des deux côtés du Pacifique. Et comme ces arbres se sont adaptés aux êtres humains, il y a eu diverses formes de relations et de «domestications» entre les plantes et les humains. À mesure que les écosystèmes urbains se sont dégradés en Eurasie et en Amérique du Nord, ces petits arbres ont souvent persisté et créé de nouvelles opportunités pour la restauration de l’environnement, les espaces verts et la production alimentaire – ainsi que le renouveau culturel. Ce projet concerne les arts et les sciences de la décolonisation de la restauration et de l’expansion de ces bosquets et vergers historiques.

fruit (‘drupes’) of chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, August 2016, Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island (photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram and Alex Grünenfelder with montage made by Brochu-Ingram)

While these fruit and nut trees are part of large and complex gene pools, with some genotypes and species vulnerable to severe decline especially in southern Eurasia, few populations will and can be extinguished — especially in and around North American and European cities.

Bien que ces arbres fruitiers et à noyaux fassent partie de pools génétiques vastes et complexes, certains génotypes et espèces étant vulnérables à un déclin sévère en particulier dans le sud de l’Eurasie, peu de populations seront et pourront être éteintes – en particulier dans les villes nord-américaines et européennes.

What is ‘nearly lost’ is the body of cultural knowledge of more than 10,000 years of human dependance on and care of these ecological allies along with the attention span and observation skills  to see these little trees and what they contribute. And in exploring these lost (agri)cultures of native fruit trees, the attacks on indigenous knowledge in North America have been especially egregious. An even more profound loss has come about with the emergence of the 20th Century Eurocentric, consumer subject largely disconnecting aesthetics (and artists) from manual labour (of those who still interact with and tend these trees and fruits) — as explored in this project through the writings of Marcel Proust. 

Ce qui est «presque perdu», c’est le corpus de connaissances culturelles de plus de 10 000 ans de dépendance et de soins de ces alliés écologiques ainsi que la capacité d’attention et d’observation pour voir ces petits arbres et leurs contributions. Et en explorant ces cultures (agricoles) perdues d’arbres fruitiers indigènes, les attaques contre les connaissances indigènes en Amérique du Nord ont été particulièrement flagrantes. Une perte encore plus profonde est survenue avec l’émergence de l’eurocentrique du 20ème siècle, sujet consommateur déconnectant largement l’esthétique (et les artistes) du travail manuel (de ceux qui interagissent et entretiennent toujours ces arbres et fruits) – comme exploré dans ce projet à travers les écrits de Marcel Proust..

Blooming chokecherry tree, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, 2017 April 20
photograph take jointly by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram and Alex Grunenfelder

project synopsis & site map

bosque section - presqueperdu Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram (small)

The 2014 – 2016 studies, designs and interventions that comprise À la recherche de certaines récoltes presque perdu: Decolonising permaculture: The greatest adversity comes from forgetting are in response to Utopiana’s call for the thematic residency, La Bête et l’adversité. We explore one ‘beast’ in nature: human memory and the ways that biology, culture and our individual developments mediate what we know of landscapes and how we interact and sometimes transform public spaces. In this context, we explore divergent experiences of the postcolonial world: the Geneva region that was not colonized and has had an uneven relationship with the imperial and modernist projects and the still decolonising Salish Sea region of the South Coast of Pacific Canada and adjacent Puget Sound in the United States of America.

edible chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, fruit (‘drupe’) (2016 August 11 above Fulford Harbour just 50 metres west of the historic stone Catholic Church, Salt Spring Island photo by Alex Grunenfelder & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram)

indefinite decolonial matrix - presqueperdu - Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

Within these landscapes, we explore and imagine reinserting dwindling populations of wild and traditional tree crops, in the gene pools of

apple and pear,

plum and cherry,

raspberry and blackberry, and

blueberry and cranberry.

For other Canadians having very mixed feelings about next week’s 150th anniversary of the modern Canadian state (including its massive repressive apparatuses), perhaps we need an alternative symbol. This is the only native tree that is in every province and territory: chokecherry, Prunus virginiana. It was known in nearly every indigenous language was the first fruit after the glaciers receded, has medicinal bark (for the original cherry cough lozenge), and produced the preferred poles for teepees. (2017 May 7, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island photo by Alex Grunenfelder & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram)

Tree fruit in this project also becomes a focus for exploring ecological and cultural legacies and ‘gifts’ within ecosystems with renewed interest in philosophies of gratitude so central to indigenous cultures in the Western Hemisphere. The divergent indigenous cultures of these gene pools, that span both the Geneva and the Vancouver-Seattle regions across Europe, Asia, and north-western North America are reconnoitered. In this way, we critique and begin to decolonise popular and sometimes trite notions of ‘permaculture’, a set of principles and practices for diverse and more sustainable agro-ecosystems by re-centring the roles of traditional knowledge and learning from and respecting local gene pools (and associated human populations).

timeline - presqueperdu Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram (small)

Initiating our investigations of forgetting, memory and remembrance as an often irascible beast within nature (and human lives), the contributions of Proust, and in particular his now waning modernist notions of the individual, landscape, and desire codified in À la recherche de certaines récoltes presque perdu comprise a key source for understanding the legacies of the colonial projects within Europe and in margins such as Pacific Canada. In understanding this broader loss of memory and ecosystem under modernism and individuals, we construct another aspect of the emerging movement of decolonial aesthetic specifically departing from and ‘rifting’ with Proustian nostalgia. A century ago, Proust’s modernist aesthetics largely obscured labour, ecology, and political economy from experiences of landscapes, agriculture, and indigenous and traditional communities. Today, contemporary aesthetics are back to more fully appreciating cultural legacies in nature as well as the crucial role of traditional knowledge and communities and material relationships more generally.

trellis - presqueperdu Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram (small)

Our endgame, in À la recherche de certaines récoltes presque perdu: Decolonising permaculture: The greatest adversity comes from forgetting, is to propose and begin to demonstrate some interventions in public space that re-establish small groves of these often declining tree crops. As beneficiaries of the tree planting legacies of artists Joseph Beuys and Alan Sonfist, we argue that agriculture and horticulture embody practices central to the collaborative and community-based impulses in contemporary art. In this work, we are also strongly influenced by the relational aesthetics proposed over a decade ago, that are more concerned with social learning than production of static art objects, and more recent forms of radical materialism centred on cultural cognition of threats to the biosphere and human life support and that in turn challenge to intensifying social inequities.

2015 Oct 14 site planning Alex - Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram (small)

Just as important as generating a beneficial ecological impact through nurturing traditional local gene pools, habitats and communities, we make ‘installations’ and archives with what we can find from recycled paper and ink to digital photographs, videos and text made with old computers and mobile telephones and reworked versions of software and apps. So in a time of new forms of impoverishment for artists, our approach is aggressive in the mixing of discarded and repurposed media taking inspiration from the minimalism and disregard for polish of the Arte Povera movement of Italy in the 1970s.

This work is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Canada Council logo

fruit (a month from being ripe) of crabapple trees, Malus fusca, in a grove with a very long history of harvesting and stewardship (and now vulnerable to sea level rise) at the Cowichan village, Xwaaqw’um, Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island 2016 August 11 & 12 * photograph taken jointly by Alex Grünenfelder & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

2015 Sept urban bosques - Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram (small)

observatorium: orchards of disappearing glaciers for Graubünden

 

Gordon Brent BROCHU-INGRAM
multimedia performance, ‘observatorium’ presented on 2018 July 7 at Alps Art Academy, Tenna, Switzerland

outline of performance & proposal document: BROCHU-INGRAM performance ‘observatorium’ 2018 7 7

 

synopsis

Climate change, and other broad global trends, are difficult to experience viscerally and aesthetically. Site-based interventions, such as those recently installed around Tenna, are one way to explore and contemplate complex changes across the landscape. This interactive performance outlined a long-term, site-based work proposed for slopes near Tenna exploring way to better understand and know the visual aspects of climate change, loss (especially of glaciers), and changes in the landscape (such as trees growing into natural and agricultural, alpine fields. This work centres on building three, small exclosures with cabinets holding measuring instruments, at roughly 1500, 1750, and 2000 metres elevation, with views of the remains of the melting glaciers to the north[1]. Over time and as the glaciers disappear, the climate will warm sufficiently to support small orchards of local varieties of apple / pear, hazelnut, and possibly cherry – but these new trees will effectively be ‘bitter fruit’ in the broader losses and chaos. The measuring instruments in each cabinet will represent the mountain measuring technologies of different eras: in the lowest cabinet will be kept analog devices from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century; in the middle cabinet would be the digital devices from the late twentieth century and well into the twenty-first century; and the highest cabinet, where the small orchards would establish as the glaciers had largely disappeared would be the new measuring technologies from the mid-twenty-first century.

The village of Tenna, lower centre, and the pastures above with this image roughly spanning 1500 to 2000 metres elevations.

description of performance / presentation / proposal

multimedia work with the following description

2018 July 7 ‘observatorium’ by Gordon Brent BROCHU-INGRAM

interactive performance / presentation / workshop

duration 25 minutes

Berghotel Alpenblick, Tenna

media: interactive performance (documented through photographs and video); text; sketches; and multimedia Powerpoint presentation (also documented through a PDF file)

Some of the ridges of the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona seen, from directly above Tenna at roughly 2,000 metres elevation, with a few remaining south-facing tongues of the glaciers associated with the Bifertenstock and Cavistrau peaks.

structure of performance

This performance appropriates and sometimes two sets of practices as part of public art production and installation:

a submission presentation to a jury after proposal short-listing as part of consideration for decision-making that could lead to actual funding, site planning, and installation and

a focus group to begin to assist a planner (or artist) identify individual and communal priorities, concerns, and issues for an open space and / or protected landscape.

AAA2018 luminaries in the second half of the July 7, 2018 interactive performance, rifting on the design / public art ‘charrette’, at an excellent example of traditional grazing exclosures, with local woodworking vernacular, near the Alpenblick Hotel in Tenna.

A sardonic element was inserted into the first half of the performance, that included the PowerPoint, where theoretician and teacher Dr. Hannah Hölling was asked to randomly interject the kinds of hostile comments that can never be verbalized in such a ‘presentation to a jury’ in typical, public art frameworks in North America. As arranged, she heckled and contradicted Brochu-Ingram and went as far as shouting ‘this is shit!’.

The workshop outside by the traditional grazing exclosure was a bit vague and focused on making notes on two, large sheets of paper: noting key experiences and concerns on the slope above Tenna, at the present time, and imaging that same landscape in fifty year  under the onslaught to warming and increasingly extreme and erratic weather.

A spatial concept of the three exclosures and cabinets discussed in the performance and the core of the ‘observatorium’ proposal.

text of performance

part 1

The glaciers are melting fast.

We need new places, from which to observe as well as for data, reflection, re-creation and to grow more food: observatorium.

observatorium: exploring divergent forms of experiences, knowledge & measures of changing land

observatorium: collective mapping of climate & community change over time

observatorium: visual baselines; instruments as artefacts; diverging empiricisms experiencing environmental change as aesthetics

some influences:

the North-West Coast site-based and public art with which I grew up and formed my cultural identities and values as part of the twentieth-century movement of ‘indigenous modernisn’ often decolonizing boundaries in aesthetic production;

in terms of influences in land art and other site-based, contemporary work, Dennis Oppenheim’s 1969, ‘Directed Seeding – Cancelled crop’ the Netherlands;

Alan Sonfist’s initial 1965-1978 Time Landscape (1965-1978-Present); and

Joseph Beuys’ 1982, 7000 Eichen – Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung / 7000 Oaks – City Forestation Instead of City Administration are most important.

Some of the recent work with fruit at KEXMIN field station has included recognition of,

fruit tree as culture,

fruit as metaphor in different ways across divergent cultures,

cultivation as visual culture,

biological culturing as contemporary culture, and

land art as source of reconfigured biological resources (wood, metaphors, ideas, shelter, genomes, experiments, food, organisms).

These can be spaces to explore Swiss and Canadian responsibilities for carbon pollution and climate change.

Example of one of the three exclosures, cabinets, and small orchards proposed.

proposed installations

  • 3, 5 m x 5 m fenced spaces for (eventual) gardens / orchards) at 1500, 1750 & 2000 metres elevation
  • 3, 5 m x 5 m fenced orchards established as local wild and cultivated fruit trees can survive at higher elevations
  • 3, 2 m x 2 m unlocked cabinets in fenced spaces with donated and curated optical & mountain measuring technologies:

a. the cabinet at 1500 metres containing analog technologies from the 19th to 20th centuries;

b. the cabinet at 1750 metres containing digital technologies from the late 20th to mid-21st centuries; and

c. the cabinet at 2000 metres for post-digital technologies.

This is scan of a pre-digital, Swiss-made altimeter from the 1970s. Now quite outmoded by newer, more precise technologies, the artist has carried this instrument on all field trips since his late teens — often more as a talisman than for accuracy. This would be the kind of outmoded artefact of measurement that would be appropriate for donation (rather than discard or recycling), possible curatorial choice, and inclusion on the lowest cabinet.
  • an online archive on local communities and visual landscapes, fruit trees and changing cultivation (and protection of wild populations), climate change, changing patterns of ice, and old and new mountain measuring technologies

time frames

fence & cabinet installation: 2 to 5 years

orchard establishment: 10 to 40 years

observing loss of ice: 50 to 100 years

archive: 2 to 50 years

collecting & curating instruments: 2 to 5 years

Central Tenna with the Alpenblick Hotel centre right, where the performance began, and the exclosure on the other side of the grocery store, centre left, where the charrette took place.

5 minute break in performance

Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram at the start of the charrette on the Tenna slopes (current and future) as part two of the July 7, 2018 performance, ‘observatorium’.

part 2: introductory charrette

a 15 minute on-site exercise in discussion & collective imagining related to the changing ecosystems and community on the slopes around Tenna

Moving to the exclosure from cattle grazing, on the other side of the main meeting place in Tenna across from the Alpenblick Hotel, we explore an example of the three sites, at three elevations along the slope, that I propose.

We then began to map was has been most important for the visiting artists existing on these slopes above the village.

And then we imagined what will be there in fifty years in terms of both climate and more broadly, community change.

The collective ‘maps’ of what visiting artists value in present-day Tenna (centre) and imagining that same slopes after a half a century of climate change and warming (right, partial view) at the finish of the short charrette on the Tenna slopes (current and future) as part two of the July 7, 2018 performance, ‘observatorium’.

 

A barn in Tenna with a traditional log vernacular that could be adapted to a 2 meter by 2 meter cabinet. In contrast to this tile roof, the traditional stone might be preferable or just metal.

acknowledgements

I am particularly grateful to two individuals who generously shared their knowledge of and perspectives on the region: Mr. Othmar-Ferdinand Arnold of Tenna and Dr. Renate Ebersbach, Universität Basel. Thanks to Johannes Hedinger, Mirja Busch, Jolanda Rechsteiner, Hanna Hölling, Analia Saban, and Fiona and Eileen Good along with the other coaches, artists, scholars, volunteers, and other participants at Alps Art Academy 2018!

Larches adjacent to the Tenna sawmill. With warming temperatures, coniferous trees are invading anthropogenic meadows that might better support apple orchards.

notes

[1] Above Tenna, there are view of three peaks with rapidly disappearing glaciers: Ringelspitz with the remnants of the “Tamins Glacier” and the remaining parts of the south-facing edges of the glaciers on Bifertenstock and Cavistrau peaks all in the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona World Heritage Site.

 

[2] This project is described more full at, http://www.gordonbrentingram.ca/presqueperdu/index.php/2018/07/07/observatorium-orchards-of-disappearing-glaciers-in-graubunden-switzerland/

Apple trees in the valley below Tenna — that in the coming decades could be cultivated at the elevation of Tenna and eventually above.

chokecherry grove, Hwmet’utsun, Salt Spring Island

2018 May 8 chokecherry grove Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area photography by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

 

One of the loveliest of the relatively uncommon groves of chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, the only tree (and fruit tree) that is native to every province and territory in Canada (and the northern half of the continental USA). While small clumps of chokecherry trees are common across Canada, they are uncommon on the BC Coast. The other part of the West Coast where this species occurs is in Mendocino Country in Northern California. This grove in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve in the Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area on Salt Spring Island, has relatively old trees, verging on more than a century, along with large fallen trees, and saplings. The holes in the bark of older trees were made by woodpeckers.

2018 May 3 trunk of older chokecherry tree, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

The bark is the source of the medicinal in traditional cherry cough drops and the berries are good to eat (for both humans and crows). While I have seen no other large groves such as this, there are many young trees on Salt Spring Island most likely because the species is poisonous to deer which here is often in relatively high numbers because of predator suppression.

2018 May 8 chokecherry, highlighting the ‘bottle brush’ floral form, at the end of blooming, Hwmet’utsun photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

This grove of chokecherries is in a landscape with archaeological sites going back well over 5,000 years and Salish (Cowichan Tribes) presence continuous until well into the 20th Century and ongoing harvesting of some food resources. The sites with the chokecherry trees have signs of historic food processing.

2018 May 3 blooming chokecherry, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Islands photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

A curious apple tree in the forest

2018 May 3 old apple cultivar volunteer hybrid Hwmet’utsun photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

A curious apple tree in the forest

The North American West Coast’s one native apple species, Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca, is the only New World apple species in the primary gene pool of cultivated, Eurasian apple, Malus pumila. Pacific crabapple’s range spans the North Pacific from California to Alaska to East Asia.

2018 May 3 old apple cultivar volunteer hybrid Hwmet’utsun photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

This curious apple tree is in the forest in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, in the Hwmet’utsun conservation area on the west coast of Salt Spring Island and was blooming on May 3, 2018. The tree is between a half century and a century old and may have been planted as part of a failed attempted a homesteading. Or the tree, similar to some other volunteer apple trees on Salt Salt Spring Island associated with the last 19th Century, may well be the product of introgression between colonial cultivars and the native, Pacific crabapple. What is certain is that the pollen from such ‘forest apples, with more phenotypic characteristics of Malus pumila than those of Malus fusca, are producing pollen that is entering the gene pool of Malus fusca.

2018 May 3 old apple cultivar volunteer hybrid Hwmet’utsun photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

A fruit tree, like this one, that can cope with the kind of shade in this woodland could adapt to darker sites between buildings in urban areas.

2018 May 3 old apple cultivar volunteer hybrid Hwmet’utsun photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

Persistence: Land(scape) in contemporary indigenous visual & activist practices

Persistence: Land(scape) in contemporary indigenous visual & activist practices (or indigenous site-based visual practices for re-imagining communal relationships to land and territory), Ontario College of Art and Design University, Toronto.
notes
&
graphics

Organic projects & regenerative public art practices: Indigenous & decolonial

 

bark with woodpecker holes of a very old and tall (>40 feet) chokecherry tree, Prunus virginiana, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island 2018 February 19 * This exceptionally old tree was probably cultural modified a century ago: today with signs of classic Salish lopping to grow horizontally for more fruit production and easier harvesting.

an outline for a series panels and workshops 2018- 2022

PDF: BROCHU-INGRAM 2018 Organic projects

 

Organic projects & regenerative public art practices:

Indigenous & decolonial

Panels and workshops are proposed as part of ongoing work on the live tree in public and other site-based art works, and related studies, spanning media such as drawings, photography and video as inherently multi-media works, is proposed as a topic for case studies, analysis, and theorizing in terms of the following narratives and schools of practices: public (and private) space and pressures for environmental justice; collaborative and performative production practices; indigenous, colonial, globalisation, decolonial and migration theory; diversifying notions of gender and sexuality extending to new views of ‘nature’ beyond those articulated by ecofeminism, queer theory and queer ecologies; divergent experiences of traditional knowledge and science as part of empirical investigations extending to artist practices; and multiple experiences of environmental crises. These theoretical, activist, and institutional prisms are proposed for two reasons. Nearly every contemporary outdoor and public work has a relationship with at least one of these conversations. And all of these conversations, as they relate to living plants as art objects[i] and cultural currency, are contentious and unresolved suggesting that the tree, as an awkward moniker of an aesthetic of collaborative survival, may well become a recurring symbol in twenty-first century visual culture. Secondly, all of this interest in trees, as or part of complex works of site-specific art, is occurring during the most rapid and massive loss of trees and forests in human history. The inclusion of or focus on living trees in contemporary art involves diverse experiences including anxiety, nostalgia, paralysis, and hope – while not escaping neoliberalism and new forms of cultural ‘greenwashing’. Further theorizing is warranted.

 

 

introduction

In nearly all of human history, visual art objects have been inert and relatively permanent. In the twentieth century, visual art shifted from a focus on easily monetized objects to include assemblages and site-specific installations[ii], including and sometimes centred on living things most notably trees. In the same period, the movements that coalesced as “relational aesthetics” has recast collaborative, cultural production practices as art works in them selves. In these organic projects and living sites movements, vegetable gardens have been ephemeral and ‘use’ of living animals and insects has been largely ill-fated. But trees have had a better run of nearly a half-century with aesthetics and social practices[iii] far different than the short-lived landart[iv] movement that more often effectively killed rather than fostered local ecosystems.

Trees in site-based, public art warrant investigation both as linked to a wide set of cultural movements and as a signifier of a range of transformations of contemporary visual art refocusing on site, collaborative and relational aesthetics, and re-centred narratives on challenging social inequities. And works with trees often touch on the following global conversations both inside and outside the art world:

  1. indigenous, colonial, and decolonial theory and aesthetics increasingly in the context of globalizations and migrations;
  2. public space (and private and privatising space) and pressures for environmental justice;
  3. collaborative and performative production practices;
  4. diversifying notions of gender and sexuality extending to new views of ‘nature’ extending beyond ecofeminism, queer theory and queer ecologies;
  5. divergent experiences of traditional knowledge, science and empirical investigation; and
  6. multiple experiences of environmental crises and responses through ideals of community sustainability.

The inclusion of living trees in site-based area has come at a time of rapid change where cultural products have diversified and valuation systems have often been further integrated with capital flow. Living trees defy one system of monetisation, focused on the purchase of art objects, while is rooted in a massive cultural economy of public art and space: design, installation, maintenance, and use.

Trees in site-based works also provide opportunities to explore a number of shifts and trends in cultural production, and political economies, in the twenty-first century.

a. from static works to interventions – Installation and maintenance of living trees involves a complex set of practices and collaborative relationships that extend from the artist(s) to the community often mediated by governments and economies. At times, living trees in contemporary work blurs the lines between permanent work and intervention. And when a tree dies from neglect, vandalism, or environmental degradation, this ‘event’ becomes part of the continuity of the cultural work.

b. expanded notions of multimedia and archives – The living tree in site-based works typically involves a series of studies and proposals that in turn form a body of multimedia work that begins to appear more like an archive. So at the core of the proposed work is how notions of ‘multiple-media works’ and ‘archives’ shift have evolved and how the lines have blurred with the use of living material. The tree become a kind of indefinite monitoring device for respective public space where the archive is indefinite as a kind of field station or ongoing research site.

c. expanded uses of (bio)technologies as culture – Environmental art practices, including use of live material, borrows from a range of technologies and technical cultures such as landscape architecture, urban design, and environmental sciences, making a new, and broader, form of (bio)bricolage in visual culture. The parameters and limits of this pot-pourri as ‘art’ and cultural production have been under-theorized. In particular, this environmental turn in material culture, since landart, has generated new visual semiotics that warrant further exploration.

d. tree significations and semiotics – Symbols as universal, and often as ambiguous, as live trees have conveniently plastic meanings and in the twenty-first century typically have one or more relationships to the six broader cultural dynamics and themes, that are sometimes contradictions, outlined earlier[v]. Today, these discussions and debates are drivers within much of contemporary visual culture outside of the commercial art market. But a large portion of public art in the late twentieth century has been used as an extension of urban planning and design.

e. trees and ecological practices remain largely marginal in public art theory – Both criticism and pedagogy for site-based, ‘environmental’, and ecological practices and respective works remain poorly developed.

f. parallel public art (bio)worlds – Today there are parallel milieux, schools, and academies of production of site-based environmental and public works between often technically poor and scientifically ‘sketchy’ works rooted in contemporary visual arts cannons, on one hand, and projects more comprehensively designed and executed but that are typically bland and kitsch and more closely regulated through municipalities, land markets, and professional institutions of landscape architecture, architecture, and urban design.

g. criticism for site-based visual works as organic projects – The criticism around contemporary works with living material has been lax and poorly developed. Aside from a small number of works, notably by Sonnfist and Beuys, trees are planted, descriptive articles are published that rarely involve critiques, and the works are integrated into blander urban design economies – until officials lose interest in maintenance and the trees tree and the associated works forgotten. With all of the uses of trees, critical (and better documentation) frameworks are warranted.

h. curating organic projects – Site-specific works with living trees often defy conventional curating (and ongoing evaluation and use) warranting use of a wider array of exhibition, archival, and interactive techniques – inline with some more general trends in contemporary art.

This proposal is organized by the following problem statement and then description of central questions to organize five years of investigations. Research methods and frameworks for theorizing are outlined.

 

hazelnut (Corylus cf cornuta) on Salt Spring Island 2018 February 18

 

 

problem statement

Over the last century, trees have gone from being subjects for representation in visual art, while providing wood and paper for fabrication, to increasingly being living parts of contemporary works. In other words, aspects of agriculture and arboriculture cultivation are becoming practices in contemporary visual culture. Examination of this ‘environmental turn’ or ‘organic project’ allows us to anticipate a range of practices seeping into art production, curating, and criticism. But questions remain about the importance of these expanded notions of production, collaboration, and critical examination that have been only partially prefigured by landart and relational aesthetics[vi].

 

Is the half-century of trees in site-specific, multimedia works simply a fad and a gimmick or some new development in contemporary culture and visual language spanning both Western and a range of eastern and indigenous aesthetic cannons? Are trees in site-based art more of a form of landscape architecture or urban design than contemporary visual works? What is the relevance of such architectural fields, that sometimes position themselves as contemporary art but rarely attain the necessary credibility or creative innovation? Do trees in public art signal an integration of a range of principles and technologies, originating in agriculture, horticulture, and arboriculture, as practices for contemporary visual art? Are a small number of symbolic trees in public art works just a poor substitute, a mild or ritualised response, to destruction of entire ecosystems? How do the activities around, and respective information generated by, the installation of a site-based work, with a living tree, transform notions of public space, environmental monitoring, and the artistic archive?

 

questions & investigations

When are the uses of living trees in contemporary, site-based art entirely rhetorical and when do they touch on aesthetic discourses involving new (and recovered) material practices in art production? When do living trees in site-based art function as part of larger, multimedia works and how do these living elements function within aesthetic canons such as representation, documentary, and abstraction? When is use of living material used to realign and challenge aspects of public (and private) space and respective political economies? When do living trees in site-based projects and interventions touch on explorations of indigeneity, colonialism, postcolonality, and more contemporary migrations? How do notions of individual and collaborative production shift when other living beings, even ones that are only vegetative, are involved?

To organize these many questions, a range of works will be explored through six of the early twenty-first century conversations, social and cultural movements, and schools.

 

  1. How are living trees in site-based works used to both highlight and obscure the histories of places, communities and respective social inequities? What is the relevance of indigenous, colonial, and decolonial theory and aesthetics (increasingly in the context of globalisation and migrations)?

 

  1. In relation to discourses on public space and pressures for environmental justice, how are trees used to expand, and sometimes to constrain and privatise, enjoyment by local human populations?

 

  1. Within the expanding milieux of collaborative and performative production practices, how are the planting and protection of trees organized in relationship to local political economies and social movements?

 

  1. In the huge field of diversifying notions of gender and sexuality, we are seeing new views of ‘nature’ extending well beyond those articulated by ecofeminism, queer theory[vii] and queer ecologies[viii]. How do the complex manifestations of gender, often seen with trees, further expand our understandings of biology more generally? And what divisions of labour in these collaboration still persist?

 

  1. Today, use of trees in art production spans divergent experiences of traditional knowledge, science and other forms of knowledge. How do living trees highlight the unevenness of bodies of knowledge and how they are transmitted?
  2. Today, there are multiple experiences of environmental crises and divergent responses through ideals of community sustainability. When are trees in site-based works used as talismanic symbols and other times prescriptive, exploratory and even adversarial strategies – relation to perceptions of such crises?

 

An underlying theme in these examinations of trees in these site-based works is that the meanings of the use of these organisms in art are often so complex and ambiguous that the trope of tree-in-art-as-trees-disappear-in-the-world allows for inclusion of multiple themes and statements.

 

research methods

Field investigations will first examine a score of pioneering works with living trees:

1977 Alan Sonfist in Manhattan and subsequent projects[ix];

1982 Joseph Beuys in documenta 7, Kassel[x];

2008 Ron Benner’s expository gardens with indigenous perennials[xi];

2010 Los Angeles’ Fallen Fruit collective[xii];

2011 Jimmie Durham’s apple trees at Kassel with one recently vandalised[xiii];

2012 Duane Linklater conceptual sites with native trees in the Hudson Valley [xiv]; and

2012 The San Francisco Bay Area’s Guerrilla grafters[xv].

Another ten works that are in-progress, in different locales around the globe, would be investigated particularly for the art practices and production processes. One of these case studies would be a self-reflexive study of KEXMIN field station’s work with re-establishing orchards of Salish fruit trees (often closely related to Eurasian cultivars)[xvi].

 

In describing and evaluating these works, a wide range of information sources would be explored including the following:

  1. physical description of site-based art work over time;
  2. description of installation, interventions, performances, and ongoing use (including participant observation and semi-structured interviews);
  3. context over time (the neighbourhood and political economy);
  4. management, maintenance, modification, vandalism;
  5. interviews with knowledgeable critics; and
  6. comprehensive review of the writings on, including the criticism, on the work.

 

analytical frameworks & theorizing

Analysis of this work will go back to the various questions outlined above focusing on a small number that emerge in the investigations. The following will be some of the bodies of theory used to guide analysis and conclusions:

  1. overviews of public art and other site-specific works (sites, media, public enjoyment, controversy theory);
  2. overviews of landart and more recent environmental themes;
  3. aesthetic responses to environmental crises (including climate change[xvii]);
  4. Foucauldian discourse analysis focused on the evolution of aesthetics, practices, and institutions with some links to late post-structuralism such as Deleuze and Guattari’s 1980 A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia;
  5. theory on transformations in visual art production including the French “La sociologie de l’art” theorists;
  6. new materialisms[xviii] and some less visceral forms of ‘deep ecology’ theory;
  7. Northwest Coast visual and performative cannons (with which I grew up) including historic and contemporary innovations; and
  8. political economy and related class and governance theory especially related to public art and space (and related stakeholder analysis) in the context of globalisation and theories of appropriation, valorisation, and decolonisation.

 

 

notes

[i] Lippard, Lucy. 1997. Six Years: The Dematerializaton of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

[ii] Kwon, Miwon. 2004. One Place after Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[iii] Viegener, Matias. 2015. Speculative Futures: Social practice, cognitive capitalism and / or the triumph of capital. in Informal Market Worlds: The Architecture of Economic Pressure. Peter Mörtenböeck and Helge Mooshammer (eds.). Rotterdam: nai010. http://mviegener.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Viegener-Matias-Speculative-Futures-Social-Practice-Cognitive-Capitalism-andor-the-Triumph-of-Capital.pdf

[iv] Kaiser, Philipp and Miwon Kwon. 2012. Ends of the Earth: Art of the Land to 1974. New York: Prestel.

[v] neo-colonial versus decolonial 2. public / privatised space 3. collaborative and performative production versus atomised production 4. gender & sexuality: binary and heteronormative versus multiple genders and queer 5. traditional knowledge versus contemporary science 6. crises: solvable versus inevitable

[vi] Bourriaud, Nicholas. 2002 (1998). Relational Aesthetics. Simon Pleasance and Fonza Woods translators. Dijon, France: Les Presses du Réel. & Bishop, Claire. 2004. Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics. October 110 (2004): 51 – 80.

[vii] Ingram, G. B., A.-M. Bouthillette and Y. Retter (eds.). Queers in Space: Communities | Public Places | Sites of Resistance. Seattle: Bay Press.

[viii] Ingram, G. B. 2010. Fragments, edges & matrices: Retheorizing the formation of a so-called Gay Ghetto through queering landscape ecology. in Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics & Desire. Cate Sandilands and Bruce Erickson (eds.). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. 254 – 282.

[ix] Sonfist, Alan, Wolfgang Becker, and Robert Rosenblum. 2004. Nature, The End of Art: Environmental Landscapes. New York: Distributed Art Publishers.

[x] Beuys, Joseph. 1982. 7000 Eichen – Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung) / 7000 Oaks – City Forestation Instead of City Administration. Kassel, Hesse: documenta 7.

[xi] Benner, Ron. 2008. Gardens of a Colonial Present / Jardins d’un Present Colonial. London, Ontario: London Museum.

[xii] Goodyear, Dana. 2012. Eat A Free Peach: Mapping “Public Fruit.” The New Yorker (March 12, 2012). http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/eat-a-free-peach-mapping-public-fruit

[xiii] karenarchey. 2015. Jimmie Durham documenta13 work destroyed in Kassel. conversations e-flux (July 2015). http://conversations.e-flux.com/t/jimmie-durham-documenta13-work-destroyed-in-kassel/2036

[xiv] Duane Linklater. 2012. Untitled (a raspberry garden for 21st. St.). In conjunction with Bard Centre for Curatorial Studies and Family Business Gallery as point of a pointed poetic response to President Barrack Obama’s little known apology to Native Americans in 2010. http://www.duanelinklater.com/index.php?/raspberry/

[xv] http://www.guerrillagrafters.org/category/politics-of-the-graft/

[xvi] http://gordonbrentingram.ca/KEXMINfieldstation/2017/06/10/salish-fruit-tree-species-of-the-gulf-san-juan-islands/ & http://www.gordonbrentingram.ca/presqueperdu/index.php/2016/10/23/nearly-lost-re-introducing-images-of-vancouvers-native-salish-fruit-trees/

[xvii] Bunting, Madeleine. 2009. The rise of climate-change art. Guardian (London)(2 December, 2009).

[xviii] Dawson, Ashley. 2015. Radical Materialism Introduction. Social Text: Periscope (2015 March 8 Radical Materialism issue). http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/radical-materialism-introduction/ & Cole, Andrew. 2015. Those Obscure Objects of Desire: The Uses And Abuses of Object-Oriented Ontology And Speculative Realism. Artforum (Summer 2015): 318 – 323. https://artforum.com/inprint/issue=201506&id=52280