trees continued

Power is bad for the lining of the stomach. [1]   -Adrian Piper


This talk is like stamping new coins.  They pile up,/ while the real work is done outside/ by someone digging in the ground.[2]

You have seen the kettle of thought boiling over, now consider the fire![3] –Rumi

The greenhouse was sustaining 288 western larch seedlings.  It is essentially a promotion for a project I co-founded with my colleague and wife Lauren McCleary, Trees Continued. Trees Continued is a community tree-planting project similar to Joseph Beuys’s project 7,000 Oaks (Figure 11, 12).   Yet unlike 7,000 Oaks, Trees Continued is less about the reclamation of public space through the creation of lasting monumental sculpture, as it is intended to provide an opportunity for tactile engagement.  Beuys’s planted oak trees and columnar basalt, we are planting larch seedlings. We are more interested in the immediate emotional response the planter has with earth and seedling, than the immediate demarcation of “here is sculpture”.  Our footprint will differ from the public sculpture monuments of 7,000 Oaks, we are creating dialogue between citizens, land, climate change, scientific research and economics forces.  7,000 oaks planted groupings of 7 oaks in reference to the ancient symbolism of druidic traditions; we are planting groupings of 5 seedlings as a practical decision taking into consideration some may not survive.    Trees Continued evades the implicit economics of land ownership and capital that are inherent in the act of planting trees.  Our aim is to maintain a lasting dialogue within our community about art, about connecting culture to nature, and about engaging with landscape via a sense of legacy and stewardship.

We worked with the University of Idaho’s Franklin J. Pitkin Forestry Nursery to acquire 400 western larch seedlings.  Interested citizens and organizations can participate simply by planting trees.  There is no cost for the trees, nor do you need to be a landowner.  We have worked with The City of Moscow, local citizens, and organizations to find land holdings suitable for western larch; who have agreed to allow plantings on their land.  By removing the need for capital and land ownership we have tried to make it possible to engage a much wider age group and economically diverse proportion of the community.  We are also interrogating land ownership and the power land ownership has to exclude (even alienate) whole segments of the population from a sense of place.   In Commonwealth, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri describe how, “the concept of property and the defense of property remain the foundation of every modern political constitution.”[4]   Trees Continued is engaging with land ownership as a material in the creative process.  We are testing the flexibility of its structure not by removing it from our equation but by stressing its presence.   Landownership is highlighted during the growing, planning, and planting of the trees, as an ever-present force that has benefits and restrictions.

We have high hopes for the project.  We hope to connect culture with nature through the reductive sculptural process of digging in the soils, combined with the additive sculptural process of planting trees.  Neither action is arrested and held as art, yet each hold the possibility of a continuous growth.  We are saying there is a different kind of engagement one can have with a landscape when they are not alienated from the process of death and renewal in natural and cultural systems.

The quotes by Rumi at the beginning of this section draw our attention to the gap between theoretically knowing a concept and actually living it out.  There is a difference between talking about a moral way to live and actually living a moral way. In his 1985 speech, Reden ber das eigene Land: Deustchland 3[5], Beuys addresses the monolithic power of capitalism, what it creates, and what it keeps from being created.   Beuys spoke of the low-level drive in people brought about by the economics of capitalism.  He said,  “it goes without saying that people look to their advantage, but that advantage should increasingly be divorced from petty egoism.”  He goes on to say that, “… by way of another comprehension of work for human beings…” will create a drive more demanding than advantage through money produces.  It will foster a drive “…want(ing) something for the soul, the spirit, the I, intuition, inspiration and imagination.” [6] By organizing and acting out this project, we are nourishing the need to labor for something beyond money.   Trees Continued is research in how to provide: health for the soul, food for the spirit, agency for the I, trust for intuition, longevity of inspiration, and sustainability for the imagination.

"Art that can not shape society and therefore also can not penetrate the heart questions of society, [and] in the end influence the question of capital, is no art."
-Joseph Beuys, 1985

[1] Piper, Adrian. Out of Order, Out of Sight, Volume II: Selected Writings in Art Criticism 1967-1992. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 29.

[2]  The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks (New York and San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995), p.107.

[3] Rumi, “qtd. In”, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House: Writings 1973-1994 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press; London: Thames and Hudson), 172. 

[4] Hardt, Michael, Antonio Negri. Commonwealth. (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 15.

[5] 1985 Joseph Beuys delivered at the Munchner Kammerspiele, in Munich, Germany.

[6] In Memoriam, Joseph Beuys: Obituaries, Essays, Speeches, Joseph Beuys ... [et al; translation, Timothy Nevill]. ( Bonn: Inter Nationes, 1986), 49.