Exploring / Forest Memory
My talk for Salon Particulier on Wednesday night discussed forests, trees, and teleologies of time. On my first slide, you can probably make out the scene with the time traveller and the sequoia tree rings in Chris Marker’s science fiction film La Jetée (1962), which references Vertigo (‘On it Madeleine traced the short distance between two of those concentric lines that measured the age of the tree and said, ‘Here I was born … and here I died’.’):
As part of the talk, I discussed loci memoriae (in the form of arboreta and commemorative tree plantings, such as the National Memorial Arboretum), and specifically, the use of dead as well as living timber in the iconography of remembrance. I touched on Gail Ritchie’s tree ring memorial drawings, Paul Nash’s post war paintings of eviscerated trees, and the French horticultural term ‘forest trauma’.
I talked about the rise of landscapes of nostalgia during the 1980s ‘museumisation’ of the British countryside, and the changes to policy and the languages of policy (as in Defra’s ‘Keepers of Time’ Forestry Commission policy). I brought along a number of texts (below), such as Peter Larkin’s Rings Resting the Circuit, and compared the languages of these investigations to the rhetoric of dendrochronologists (writing on ‘chronology-building’ from the growth of rings in the vascular cambium) and of oral historians, archiving social memory through the medium of forestry.
I also discussed the concept of ‘veteran trees’ (which can also refer to a tree which has been through hard times, and has survived an accelerated passage through the aging process – abiotically induced or due to physiological stress or wounding). The talk examined how we use forests and trees as a way of memorialising ourselves as much as our environments, and orienting our individual and collective memories in time according to the models born out of wood and the woods.
Recordings were made on the night of myself and the other speaker, artist and sculptor Douglas White, so I will repost those soon. Coincidentally, a section of my talk on dendro-logos – including the ringed logo for the new Forestry Commission entity, Forest Art Works – anticipated Thursday’s event, the launch of the new text art and poetry anthology, The Dark Would, at Whitechapel Art Gallery. Editor Philip Davenport began his talk with explicitly citing the Dante source (‘in the midst of my journey through life, I found myself in a dark wood…’). The logo which apparently showed tree rings, and which was visible behind Caroline Bergvall as she read from her ‘Via’ (an important text in my PhD), is in fact an adapted illustration of Dante’s circles of hell from an early twentieth century translation, emptied of its text.