As our unearthing of the root continues and we contend with grafts, elbows, changes in pitch, and buried infrastructure (!), we are also grappling with this act of ‘drawing’ upon the site. Is our drawing the root, the trench, or as Alisa insightfully noted, the displaced soil itself? What is the assertion put forth by our delineation of the root, of the tree, of the site? Who is this assertion for? Laura Kurgan in her fantastic book “Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology & Politics” cites Rosalyn Deutsche in discussing this entanglement of representation/reality/politics.
Reality and representation mutually imply each other. This does not mean, as it is frequently held, that no reality exists or that it is unknowable, but only that no founding presence, no objective source, or privileged ground of meaning, ensures a truth lurking behind representations and independent of subjects. Nor is the stress on representation a desertion of the field of politics; rather, it expands and recasts our conception of the political to include the forms of discourse. We might even say that it is thanks to the deconstruction of a privileged ground and the recognized impossibility of exterior standpoints that politics becomes a necessity. For in the absence of given or nonrelational meanings, any claim to know directly a truth outside representation emerges as an authoritarian form of representation employed in battles to name reality. There can never be an unproblematic—simply given—”representation of politics,” but there is always a politics of representation.
Laura Kurgan, Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology & Politics, (New York: Zone Books, 2013), 18.
A moving section through the allée from east to west. As the ground slowly rises, the ghosts of people and cars flash in and out of existence, while overhead the watchful trees explode like fireworks, all in a carefully choreographed display of shifting, moving, pulsing, life.
It has been said that “only God can make a tree.” Why do we agree with this? Isn’t it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!
Leonard Read – I, Pencil
This passage is a testament to the complexity embodied by a tree. But it is also a provocation; a challenge to us, as we continue our semester long investigation of trees. Indeed we began today to move beyond superficial terms with the tree, quite literally, but also I think uncovering a deeper level of inquiry. Seeing the root exposed like this, vulnerable in its trough of dirt, offers a more potent sense of it’s aliveness. Whereas the branches expand freely into the air and sunlight, the roots must navigate the substance of the subterranean negotiating with rocks, soil, and other roots, in their lifelong quest for nutrients. They seem more tendril-like than do the branches, reaching, searching and feeling their way just beneath our feet. Almost like a river, the root meanders through its medium, contending with obstacles. Where will this tributary lead us as we continue to chart its course?
As we develop our studio ideas I’ve been following this thread of tree-consciousness. Are trees conscious? In considering what other terms might be appropriate alternatives to consciousness such as thinking and sensing, I am drawn to awareness. Are trees aware of us? And if they are, how do they respond to our activities, our movements, and even just our presence? Trees, as the oldest living beings on the planet exist and operate in a different time. Tree-time. They are slow, silent, and stationary. We, on the other hand, are relatively fast, noisy, and moving. Perhaps in order to understand how a tree responds to our presence we have to slow down to tree-time. We don’t sense a tree’s response to our presence because we aren’t tuned to it. Likewise it’s probable that we are blurred shadows in the tree’s “speed of perception.” In the same way that we as humans can’t discern the nuanced melodies of various birds since they operate in a faster time than us, we operate in a faster time than trees . So how do we reconcile tree-time and human-time in order to understand one another better? This is the question that drives my thinking for now…
Here’s a brief article written by a Harvard grad student who won the 2011 Young Curator’s award at the Canadian Centre for Architecture for an exhibition titled “First, The Forests.” The article is fairly straight forward, but I think the way he talks about forests as “lists, charts, factories, systems, models or assets” is interesting, particularly that through a bureaucratic lens and facilitated by certain ways of documenting, forests can be “deconstructed and reconstructed in the form of a list.” There are lots of links in the article which are worth following. (And lots of other great articles on the site if you have time to do some exploring.)
Primers of Forestry – CCA