Three days of crispy cold weather and almost clear skies, occasionally, even moments of bright cold sunshine – that is not what one expects of November in Helsinki. Usually it is damp and dark and windy and generally depressing – well, November has only just begun! On Thursday and Friday I was out sitting with the elm and the alder in the morning; today I visited them after noon, and noticed that the weather was getting warmer again. The ice forming on the puddles on the paths in the park yesterday (see image below) was gone today. Not many people out in the middle of the day, despite Halloween. But some with their dogs, still. Some of them show openly their surprise, when they notice a human being behaving in an unusual way, and so do children, while adults walk past as if they would not notice. Probably they avoid being embarrassed on my behalf that way, or perhaps they simply try to ignore noticing unusual details for some other reason. It is a way of being polite, I guess. Like when somebody is being drunk and behaving badly, most people try to look away as if not noticing, so they would not have to intervene.
Yesterday we had an interesting conversation with the visiting curator Irini Papadimitriou at Muu gallery, see info here, with some fascinating comments from people in the audience as well. I have not looked at the video documentation yet. The problem of inviting people to abandon representations of the environment and go out to experience the outdoors themselves, but doing that with the help of representations, is one thing. Another paradox or problem is the use of technology, which seems so immaterial and light but is actually draining lots of resources and creating much problematic waste as well. And there are other problems, too, like the illusion of continuity created by time-lapse imagery, which gives the impression of a durational performance while being produced by a series of short repeated performances and thus being “fake” in that sense.
The Muu exhibition, called Once Again, shows old works from Harakka Island, Year of the Horse (2003) and Year of the Horse – Calendar (2015) – they are available as small files on the RC, here – as well as several works created during the Arsbioarctica residency in Kilpisjärvi in 2014, with documentation on the RC as well, here. I am using the same principles in these visits to the trees, but for some reason I am not treating my tree companions with the same respect as Malla Fell; I am somehow taking them for granted, it seems. And the images are framed in a way that shows only a tiny fraction of the trees. Hm. Something to think about…
One could assume that the ancient Celtic idea of a tree is rather strange, at least if you look at the so-called tree calendar. The vine in September, the Ivy in October and the reed in November are not what first comes to mind when thinking of trees. The real problem with the vine and the ivy is the same as with the holly, they do not grow as high up north as Helsinki. Some singular examples can be found, and since the ivy is a rather common feature in outdoor flower arrangements I expected to find some ivy climbing along a wall or around a tree somewhere, but no. At the Kaisaniemi Botanical garden I found an ivy growing near the entrance, as a low shrub barely succeeding in climbing up the wall, nothing to perform with, really. And I was already a few days late in the calendar. The month of the ivy extends from 30 September to 27 October at least according the version of the calendar that I have followed during this year. So yesterday, on the first November I decided to quit searching and went and bought myself a new house plant, an ivy in a pot. I would have preferred a larger one, but this was as big as they had them at Stockmann, and that would have to do.
The next problem was where to place it, or myself together with it, where could I find some form of neutral background? The wall in my home are covered with bookshelves or furniture; my study at the Collegium did not have enough light; to take the boat to my studio on Harakka seemed cumbersome and if I bought a house plant I should perform with it at home, I thought. The cupboard doors in my bedroom are white, and by moving away some large plants from the window I could get almost enough light for the video camera, which was sitting on a tripod in the middle of the room. The first attempts in the morning where oddly unsharp, probably due to lack of light, or then some mistake, so I tried again in the afternoon. This time I placed the tripod on my bed and moved two strong lamps from the kitchen and the living room to assist the cloudy daylight from the window. I also went through the automatic functions of the camera, and yes, now the image was at least sharp. Because the tripod was on the bed the horizon was not exactly horizontal, however, which would not have mattered if not for the vertical line of the cupboard door, which was clearly leaning. How easy it is to work in harsh circumstances outdoors, where you accept what is and that’s it. Indoors, when everything has to be arranged the whole thing is immediately much more challenging. But perhaps some small miracles could be done while editing. Usually I am not using any after effects and my main tool is a dissolve. But to brighten the image a little and add some contrast I could try. It helped a little, but not that much, as you can see below.
I also remembered straightening the horizon in one clip once, but could not remember how to do it any longer. I searched through all kinds of weird effects until I resorted to google, and immediately found a detailed reply to somebody’s desperate plea, and managed to sort it out with that advice. The difference is clear. Thus, not only did I change the rules by missing the proper time of the month, October, using a houseplant and performing indoors, I even used editing tools to correct the image, well, well. One can only wonder where I will end if I continue down this road…
The first version is murky and rather unpleasant to watch, although the composition and the fold of the scarf looks much nicer than in the second image, which is fairly sharp and “normal”. Both versions are available on the Research Catalogue, as small files, here. The interesting thing in the second version is the constant movement of the plant, due to my shivering. I remember it was painful to balance the pot, I had some strange cramp in my neck, but I could not imagine that I would be shaking that much. It looks funny, because it is as if the ivy would be shivering, trying to tell me to rest it on a more stable surface. After this ordeal it found safe place on top of a chest of drawers with some light, too.
Three mornings, after the rain, before the rain and – in rain. On Thursday morning the microphone was out-of-order, the battery was finished; luckily there was no wind, so I could record without it. I was surprised to see how the elm tree on the hill had lost a large part of its leaves, lying beneath it, brown and wrinkled, while other trees in the park were beautifully yellow or red. Many are still green, like the alder; the leaves will fall green, I suppose. On Friday the weather was almost clear, more chilly with a cold wind; water in pools on all the paths. And today, on Saturday the sky looked grey again. While I was walking down to the alder the drizzle started, and by the time I sat with the elm the rain was pouring down. On the way back I realised I had an umbrella with me, after all. My plan had been to continue to Harakka Island and revisit the cliff where I recorded Year of the Monkey in 2004-2005, and perhaps record the view on video, to use as the basis for a small essay. The rain made me change my mind. The ferry-boat will continue until 22 October, and I would like to record the cliff before that, so as to be on the safe side regarding possible storms. I hate the idea of having to row in rough sea. Anyway, there is still time. The essay is for the upcoming Research Day, on 8 November, organised by the project How to do Things with Performance. The call can be found here, and soon also the program. Before that there will be an other research day, more informal, on 27 October, called “With Plants”. There is no website, but the call is simple:
A seminar on working with plants 27 October 2017 10 am to 6 pm.
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, Fabianinkatu 24 A floor 1, room 136.
This multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary event is aimed at artists, researchers and scholars who are working with plants in various ways. You are cordially invited to share your experiences. Please send the title of your presentation, an abstract and a short bio no later than 15 October to annette.arlander(at)uniarts.fi.
After the presentations during the Open Studios event on Monday at Nida art colony, we discussed each others works informally with smoked fish and beer or wine. Prompted by the comments I received I realised that I very easily succumb to a form of vanity, creating romantic imagery where the human figure looks good and the atmosphere is somehow semi-sublime. This was particularly true for the work I showed, Sunday with a Pine, which is recorded from a middle distance. My previous attempts, especially Resting with a Pine 4, 5 and 6 are much less flattering for the performer, but also less pleasing as views, and perhaps less interesting, too, because they do not “flirt” with the problematic tradition of the “sublime” landscape. I was nevertheless irritated by the idea of letting my vanity influence the images, and decided to make one more attempt.
On Tuesday afternoon I climbed up to the dunes and looked for a suitable pine that would stand relatively alone, so I could have an image of it from a distance without other branches hindering the view. And of course I wanted to find one I could easily climb on and not be completely covered by the needles. I chose one near the open dunes and tried to find the right angle for the camera with regard to the sun. I had also brought with me my go pro, and wanted to experiment with recording the view from where I sat in the tree with that camera while my main camera on the tripod would record the whole scene. I made four attempts with the tripod placed at various distances. The two first ones are in close up, resembling the work called Year of the Dog – Sitting in a Tree (2007), where I was sitting in a pine on Harakka Island once a week for a year (2006-2007) with only my shoulder visible in the image. The first one is actually too dark, almost in backlight, but there you can see something of the landscape below. The third one is about as far as I could get without bumping into another tree and shows the pine in full. The fourth image is something of a compromise, from a distance, but closer, so you can see the human figure more clearly. It is perhaps closer to a romantic version again. Resting with a Pine 9-12 are all online, too.
The go pro images from the four variations look almost the same: I had the camera in my hand while sitting in the pine, and although I tried to stay immobile there is small movement all the time. They are ok as still images, even though the horizon is leaning one way or the other and you cannot see so much of the view in them either.
Today on Sunday 24 September I finally decided to visit one of the pine trees up on the dunes every two-hours for a day, creating a time-lapse video in the manner I have done in other places. I decided to start at eight in the morning, after sunrise, and finish at eight at night, after sunset. And here I intend to write some notes of each session. So, it is time to begin….
First image. Fresh morning, quiet, empty parking lot on the hill (one car that has stayed there from yesterday), the parasols of the souvenir stands all tight and shut. I am early; finding the spot for the camera tripod is easy, framing the image is relatively easy, too. The sun is only a yellow colouring in the east, showing only as a vague glow on the tree trunk. It is quarter to eight, I climb up in the tree and sit there for approximately five minutes, enjoying the silence and the wind. Then climbing down, packing my things and returning downhill to the colony. The rays of the sun are turning brighter behind the trees.
Quarter to ten, the first bus stands on the parking lot, with a few cars around; all the souvenir stalls are up. A couple with bicycles rests on the bench by the road on the way up. The sun is high, brightening the surroundings. Suddenly the yellow leaves in the small birches stand out. I repeat my routine – second time and it is already a routine – sit in the tree and enjoy the view. I am aware of cramping my thighs around the branch unnecessarily, but if I try to relax I immediately feel unstable. The sun is not really warm and there is a chilly wind from the east; the morning is still, fresh and new.
Quarter to twelve, noon, and sun shine. It is warm, now. The bus is gone, replaced by lots of private cars; I can hear the car doors banging while sitting in the pine. An ant is moving towards me on the branch, I hope it finds a way around me, and choose not to wipe it away. I have learned how to get up on the branch and how to get down with relative ease, but I still have not found a way to sit comfortably. What feels OK to begin with soon becomes uncomfortable, and I do not want to move in the image. After all, I am sitting there only five minutes at a time.
Quarter to two, midday to afternoon, warm like summer. A woman is walking in bare feet past the tree when I arrive with my camera bag. While sitting in the tree, in its shade, I hear voices of children behind me, adults laughing, speaking Russian or Lithuanian or both. Later, when I return to the camera it has turned black; the battery? No, when I turn the camera on, it has recorded 7 seconds, and then stopped, why? Well, there is nothing else to be done but to climb up in the tree again. This time I wait to see that the camera continues working at least 30 seconds. I have no idea what happened, but this was a good reminder not to take any of my collaborators for granted. At least there were less noisy humans around the second time…
Quarter to four, almost hot, lots of traffic. The guy selling souvenirs closest to the slope looks at me with suspicion; why is she here again? Or then I am the suspicious one. The sun is no longer above me, but luckily not straight in my face either, or in the face of the camera, that is. Only two more sessions after this one; time passes so quickly it is almost scary. The walk up and down the slope feels like nothing, especially the walk down the slope, except for the constant stream of cars and huge coaches. I uploaded the clips on my computer and tried to combine the ones recorded so far. The image jumps quite a lot between each session, probably because the tripod sinks into the sand a little different each time.
Quarter to six, evening is approaching. In the forest below the hill it is already chilly, although the sun is still high in the sky when viewed from the dunes. It is hard to believe that it will set in less than two hours. There are no more coaches in the parking lot, one came down while I was on my way up the hill. Most of the souvenir stalls have closed, but there are plenty of private cars still. The pine looks really beautiful in the evening sun. This was the next to last session; the last one will be right after sun set and I am already worried that it will be too dark, for the camera to record anything and for me to find my way back. But for now everything is glowing bright and beautiful with warm evening colours.
Quarter to eight, after sunset, or actually a few minutes before, I guess, because I hurried up the hill, scared of the approaching darkness. But no problem, the light lingers on and up among the dunes the sand reflects the light, too. There were two cars left on the hill, and while returning down I still had no need for a torch. The view from the pine, with a pale violet sky and a thin crescent moon was so beautiful; what a pity that the camera sees it so very differently. I had to make all possible adjustments to let it record something, and it did. So now my Sunday with the pine is over, and it passed so very, very quickly.
After a hectic visit to Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo, it has been wonderful to calm down in Nida for a few days with the knowledge that almost a week still remains of my time here. There are too many things to do, other than finding ways of performing with the trees here, editing texts, preparing presentations, planning upcoming teaching and trying to consider alternative constellations of the works to be shown at the exhibition at Muu gallery, which opens on 6 October. Regardless of all these future worries, I have walked on the beach, playing with my little gopro camera without really finding the right way to use it. And then, today, when the weather suddenly cleared and a beautiful sunshine made everything look interesting again, I realized I should perhaps try to make one rough time-lapse session with a pine tree and my ordinary equipment after all. And if I would do it tomorrow, on Sunday, I could show it during the Open Studio on Monday. I found a potential pine partner near the beach, but perhaps too far to return to every second hour, so I walked up to the parking lot near the dunes and chose a pine tree with low and relatively bare branches. Most of the pines on the dunes are spreading their branches to create impenetrable green mounds, but this one (see image above) seemed easy and inviting. So I made a brief session as a try out, sitting up in the tree and on the branch almost touching the ground. (see images below). I managed to find a place for the camera on the slope that enabled a framing with the horizon approximately in the middle of the image, and I tried to mark the place by sticks in the sand. Leaving the tripod there for the whole day is probably not a good idea, because it is quite close to the parking place and there are lots of visitors on the weekend. Concerning the schedule starting and finishing at eight could be ok, the sun rises something like half past seven and sets around half past seven in the evening, but there is probably enough light at eight to end with a fadeout… Well, tomorrow is tomorrow, at least I have something to show for today:
The month of the vine in the Celtic tree calendar extends from September 2 to September 29, at least according the version of the calendar that I have decided to follow for my attempt at creating a brief video with the tree of each moth, in Helsinki. The place is a crucial restriction, since not all of the trees or plants in the calendar grow in Helsinki. Besides the holly, which I found in a botanical garden, the vine and the ivy are posing problems. It is possible to grow grape vines in southern Finland, and I looked up a potential site in Helsinki, the Annala Garden. Before I learned about the possibility of finding grape vines in Helsinki I had thought of the popular creeper or vine called “villiviini” (or wild vine) in Finnish. In the backyard of the house where I live there is a huge vine or actually a whole group of vines climbing up the wall of the neighbouring house, and I have considered the possibility of trying to somehow record them for quite a while. Today when returning from my regular visit to the trees (the alder and the elm) in Kaivopuisto Park I decided to take a look. After all, I had my black clothes on and my camera and tripod with me, and I had an hour before I would have to leave for the airport, so why not? When I saw that the vine had already turned red I realized this was the moment to do it; two weeks later when I would be back from my trip it might be too late.
My first attempt was unsuccessful, I did not even manage to enter the image. The leaves of the vine are concentrated rather high up on the wall, and the stems closer to the ground are bare. A further complication is the narrow space between the two walls. After some experimenting I found an angle for the camera, where I would be visible in the lower right hand corner, if I stood on top of the bicycle supports. By rotating the camera for a vertical image, I could get the whole wall with the vine, or most of it, into the image frame. I knew from before that trying to create vertical video resulted in numerous problems, although it was so easy with still photos, but it was not impossible. You simply had to use a monitor or flat screen instead of a projector, and rotate the screen for the display. So I decided to forget about Annala garden and spend some time clinging to the wall. The final video is brief, 5 min and 15 seconds, (see Vine in September), but that is sufficient for the tree calendar.
Yesterday I returned to the dunes where I saw the first pines with strong and spread out branches suitable to sit on, and found more than enough of possible partners. The pines look special because they grow individually and not in thickets as further up on the spit and they spread out their lowest branches on top of the sand, as if to keep it there, under their skirt hem as it were. I tried to find ones that would let some of the view to be seen through their needles, and to have the light in a nice angle. The first one is taken with the camera on the slope so it looks like I would be sitting very low. The two others are taken with the camera below, but a little bit too close. The human figure is again fairly large compared to the tree. In any case I edited the material into three small videos, and added them to the RC together with the previous ones, here.
These pines on the dunes where nevertheless relatively easy to capture in landscape format images compared to the pine I ran into the day before, on 12 September. After a rather long walk on the forest paths north of the colony I suddenly saw a pine tree by the path which looked inviting, because it was divided in two fairly close to the ground. It turned out to be somewhat of an illusion, though, and not so easy to climb up to. But I finally managed to straddle it, like a horse, and sit there leaning against the wet trunk for a while.
The image looks fairly comfortable, but it is so very misleading with regard to the tree. The beautiful form of the trunk needs a vertical image to come to the fore:
Exploring movement has been my main challenge during this week in Nida, because I brought with me my small action camera that I have not used at all, in order to start familiarizing myself with it. A few days now I have been walking on the straight paths that cross the forest south of the main road and today I made the first experiments editing the material. After some unnecessary half-fabricated stuff that took ages to export, I finally tried to put all the images in one frame. The longest sequence, which was actually the last one, from today, served as the basic image with sound, and five others were inserted as small frames within it. And because they were all of different length I simply took as much as was needed from the beginning and added it to the end. So instead of speeding up the material, a sense of speed or action is created by several simultaneous images. The eyes are jumping from one small frame to the next, without being able to follow them all, a kind of speed that too. But the five small frames within the larger frame also form a decorative pattern, where the individual images lose their importance. I uploaded a very small file of the work on the research catalogue, here. Well, it is perhaps not so exciting or interesting, or anything new, but at least it is something I have not done before.
The problem of the moving camera, the moving image, literally, is not solved by these experiments, though. I have been interested in the small movements generated by the wind, the waves, the clouds crossing the sun and so on, registered by a static camera, so why could not the movement of the camera be minimal as well? What if I walk really slowly, trying to keep the camera movement as minimal as possible? Or perhaps I should simply stand or sit and see if my breath will show as movement? Or perhaps record the view to the side, like looking out of the window of a train or car? – I tried that by the beach this morning, and this is the result, a horizon in diagonal! The same phenomenon, my gaze turning my head downwards, probably, is visible also when walking on the forest path up from the beach (see image at the top). Obviously some more experiments and adjustments are needed….
After a few days of walking back and forth on the sandy forest paths on the pine-covered dunes of Nida I have realized that in contrast to the usual proverb, I cannot see the trees for the forest. Today I found a pine growing on the slopes toward the sea that I could somehow make myself sit in, (see image below) and another one bent so low in the forest north of the main road that it could be quite comfortable to sit on. (See image above) Something in the environment suggest moving on the paths rather than sitting in one place, so I played with my little Gopro action camera and tried to see what could be done with it. At first I walked with the camera in my hand and tried to record the shifting quality of the ground while walking. That did not look interesting and the movement was rather disturbing actually. I tried my head-gear instead, a strap to hold the camera like a head lamp. After a few attempts I found an angle that resembled normal eyesight, although walking made the movement slightly bumpy and thus confusing. Am I so accustomed to smoothly gliding cameras in Hollywood movies that everything else makes me dizzy? When I looked at the material it was enjoyable when speeded up ten times, a sports documentary quality artificially created. An action camera is fun, yes, but if you are not engaged in very energetic action, then what to do with it? And how can you perform with or for a moving camera. The whole idea of using a camera on tripod has been to be able to step in front of the camera, too. But how to do that with movement? A camera on tripod is necessarily static. If I attach the camera on my moving body the resulting image is necessarily unstable and bewildering. My initial idea was to combine the two, to walk on the path with an action camera while my old camera would record the walk from a distance. Perhaps I will, try that out tomorrow…. hm.
Today I walked with my action camera again, up and down two of the paths, but was not very impressed by the result. Perhaps I should combine all these walks on one screen, as small squares inserted into one image? The forest is full of pine trees, all fairly straight and tall, or then small mountain pines that form impenetrable thickets. Finding a suitable partner is not an easy matter, so I decided to return to the pine with the branches bending low that I saw yesterday and to try to make a session with it. In the afternoon I changed to my black “performance outfit”, took my camera, tripod and scarf, and set out to find the pine. The pine was near to the path, so finding it was no problem. Finding an interesting viewpoint or camera angle was more difficult. I wanted to avoid possible passers-by on the path and to find a reasonably stable point for the tripod. In the end I found two ways of framing the image that were somehow interesting. The first one with the pine branches in close up covering the whole upper part of the image and the second one with the sculptural shape of the branches crossing each other. I sat for approximately ten minutes for each image and was rather lucky in having that part of the forest for myself for a while.
When I looked at the material and edited the short videos, I found the second one less interesting, although the branches cross each other in a peculiar way; perhaps because my face is visible, when I am sitting in profile. The first one is quite beautiful actually, because the camera focuses on the pine needles in the foreground and the human figure in the background remains soft and unfocused, a vague shape. The image is very romantic in some way, but at least a little different from my other sittings in trees. So now I have something to show for my first week in Nida! I will continue playing with the action camera, however, because I want to try something different. These small videos I called “Resting with a Pine” and that is exactly what they are about. But what about the action?