Watching the Birches Suffer in August

After a long period of warm, dry weather the birches on the cliffs on Harakka Island, (which I visit once a month during this year of the horse 2014 as a remake of my weekly visits during the year of the horse in 2002) have been completely yellow, like in autumn, since there is very little soil on the cliffs and no water without rain. But today, after the rainfall last night I expected them to look invigorated. Because of the brisk wind, however, most of the dry leaves had fallen, so the landscape looked even more autumnal, despite some fresh greenery here and there.
Since my last visit in July I have participated in another conference, the world Congress of the IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) at Warwick University in the UK, with the theme Theatre and Stratification. The reason I visit that conference almost every year, despite my very limited interest in theatre, is the active and supportive Performance as Research Working Group, which I have been a member of from the start. Baz Kershaw and Jacqueline Martin started the group (the first official meeting took place in Helsinki in 2006), which I now co-convene together with Jonathan Heron and Emma Meehan. We had a great meeting again this year, or several meetings, during the conference.
My paper for the working group was called “Performing with Plants – Challenges to Traditional Hierarchies?” and did not deal with this remake of the Year of the Horse at all. Rather, I focused on my work from last year, the year of the snake, which was all about swinging. And the assemblage formed by a plank and some rope attached to a tree called a swing, is of course a good example of how we normally take for granted the plants that support our activities. In a workshop organised together with Stefanie Bauerochse and Juan Manuel Aldape Munoz we invited people to swing from an old oak (me), to climb that oak and read some lines of Shakespeare (Stefanie) and walk into the art centre and watch a small performance with one of the volunteers (Juan). The book of abstracts, including these ones, can be found online here.
The huge oak I attached the swing to in Warwick (see video clip) resembled the tall redwood tree the swing was attached to at the PSi conference on Stanford University campus last year 2013 (see video clip). It was very different from the birch I tied the swing to at the opening of the Water Images exhibition here on this island this spring, and at the full moon party again last Saturday, 9 August. Or from the ash tree next to gallery Augusta on Suomenlinna during the t0NiGHt performance art event in May and again on 25 July. The mechanism was the same, though. I invited people to swing, video recorded them swinging, and then cut out the change beteeen peple so the movement of the swing continues uninterrupted, although the person swinging changes.
In my experiments here in Finland, which have been performances in the context of contemporary art rather than conference presentations, I have added another layer, by projecting the video back onto the same place and trying to swing together with the image as a performance of sorts. (see a very dark video clip of the beginning of the performance at t0NiGHt). The second experiment here on this island, Swinging in Moonlight, worked a little better, as you can see from this short video clip. An older birch is actually an ideal projection screen, with its white bark.