Belief and Productivity: A Play in the Forest “Since trees grow with year rings we can date events that took place 500 years ago or 800 years ago. If we find a tree with a Sámi bark peeling we know that at this place, not generally or somewhere in the forest, at this place one person took inner bark from one tree in 1663. And we not only know that but we know how much because the culturally modified tree is a negative of an action, we know how much they took out of the tree and we can calculate their impact on the forest. […] So that is a very important thing; that we really can be very precise otherwise we might read in a book that Sami’s ate inner bark of pine, but how much, and when, was it common, we have no idea it’s just a note in a text and the Sami’s didn’t have any written language until very recently.” From October 2013 until March 2014 I was on residency at iaspis Stockholm, granted through the Mondriaan Fonds. Over the course of this residency I encountered many people who work in connection with the Swedish forests. The more I learnt about the history of forest use in Sweden the more I realized this history was deeply intertwined with the very systems of belief that formed a sense of moral responsibility. If its possible to read the past through the negative of an action, an interesting way of reading history is implied. A history not about generalizing narratives but about specific actions at specific places, by specific people. These bark inscriptions continue to live with the tree and influence its growth. The line continuing to function long after it’s original purpose was fulfilled. Interpreting land and landscape, through inscriptions that continuously act upon it, implies moving away from a historiographical understanding of place, towards history as a material presence. According to many people I talked to in Sweden the forest ‘has an almost religious position in peoples lives, if you want to be alone with something larger than yourself and the world around you, you go to the forest’. Equally as a forest owner one might experience a sense of ‘moral obligation to keep your forest at maximum productivity’. The way in which a forest symbolizes much more than the sum of the animals and plants that live in it speaks of an anthropomorphic projection of human values onto land that, in many ways, defines how we see the world around us. The narrative of forestry use in Sweden can be read in spiritual, economic and moral terms that define the complex politics of our relation to land use. Notions of identity and the modernistic ideals of productivity produce a responsibility for ‘nature’ that pairs morality and capitalist ideals. Value systems themselves are inscribed in the landscape and to understand these systems it’s interesting to look at these bark peelings because they are at a scale easily grasped. From bark peeling, to the plough, the clear-cut forest and the drained polder; inscriptions continue to produce the values system they are a product of.
This project is supported by the O&O funding from the CBK Rotterdam