On Friday morning a thick white fog covered the sea and there was no way of distinguishing the horizon when adjusting the image in Kaivopuisto Park. During the Easter holiday week, while I was away, the marks on the ground for the tripod had disappeared, but somehow I managed to frame almost the same image. And now I know for sure that the tree up on the hill that I am sitting with is not a willow; no catkins in sight. Behind the other tree, the alder down in the park, the grass was already green, or rather the small plants on the ground had small green leaves.
On Saturday the weather had cleared somewhat, but the dark clouds looked ominous; later in the day there was a veritable hailstorm. The parasols of the Mattolaituri terrace café were in place, waiting for the season to start, folded like some giant white umbrellas.
On Sunday the day began with a snowfall, although the snow melted immediately when it hit the damp ground. I waited until the rain had subsided and walked out to the park at midday. The geese and their shit is now everywhere, a sure sign of spring.
Sunday is also the last day of the exhibition Atmorelational at Gallery Forum Box, where my video work The Tide in Kan Tiang is shown in the Mediaboxi program. The work was performed already at the end of 2015, and is clearly a forerunner to the project performing with plants, although it uses the same rough time-lapse technique that I have used in the series Animal Years. But with no scarf! I am literally performing together with a small tree, which grows in a rocky cove near Kan Tiang Beach on Koh Lanta in Thailand, standing next to it every two hours for the duration of a day. When I started in the morning I assumed the tide would rise higher than it did, based on the marks on the shore and did nor realise that the moment of high tide was rather early in the day. I wrote a blog post at the time as well. The work has nevertheless been well received and, believe it or not, sold into a private collection, which is quite exceptional for a video work. I am planning to write something about the work, but I can only write my thoughts about doing it; what other people see in it I have no access to.
Finally, today I took my camera and tripod and decided to walk through the dunes in the northern part of the nature preservation area, further away from the sea, where the vegetation would provide a wide array of plants to perform with. Once there I realized the solitary shrubs surrounded by sand were actually visually the most interesting ones. I remembered my previous visits in this area, Maspalomas on Gran Canaria, when I tried to record the dunes without vegetation or humans. This time I decided I would include all humans that walked on the dunes in the distance, and actually emphasized their size. But I was not interested in the dunes now, rather the shrubs. And I did not want images of the naturists, mostly elderly men, strolling among the bushes. While trying to follow the path, or the footprints of previous walkers, which the wind quickly wiped away, I spotted a small twisted tree on the crest of a dune, with the sand all gone from around its roots; that could be a plant to perform with, I thought. And better to do it now, since I probably never would find exactly the same place again. Without furter ado I made a first attempt sitting on the root.
The poor tree was actually swaying in the wind, burdened by my weight as well. The wind was so strong that the camera toppled over, falling on its face in the sand. Luckily it did not suffer any severe damage, but the last file was damaged due to my hasty reaction, I learned later when looking at the material. On site I simply decided to try again, and did another version standing next to the tree rather than sitting on it.
As a last experiment I moved the camera to the spot where I sat and recorded the view, including parts of the nearest branch, because its frenetic movement seemed to make the force of the wind palpable, although that is hard to imagine based on a still image.
The alder is the tree of the fourth month in the old lunar Celtic Tree Calendar, and the actual dates for the month of the alder are from March 18 to April 14, although there are variations. Alders are easy to reconise even in winter time because of their small cones, and they grow in abundance on the shores of Helsinki, many of them old and twisted, very beautiful. Finding one with a suitable branch to sit on, sufficiently sturdy and low for easy access, is another matter. A colleague sent me a photo of a nice looking tree in Mellsteninranta, Haukilahti, to the west of Helsinki, and already two weeks ago I made a trip to the area to find it. At that time I did not have my camera with me, and planned to return later. This “later” was about to be too late for the month of the alder, I realised, unless I performed before my Easter holiday trip. So, without further a do, I decided to make an attempt on Tuesday afternoon between two trips. Since I had visited the tree before, I knew I would need something to step on in order to get up easily; the branch was a little bit too high to sit on directly, and there was no other branch placed in such a way that I could heave myself up. After considering some alternatives, like a bucket upside down, I found a small stool in the attic and packed it in a bag with my camera, the tripod and the pale pink scarf. Before I could take the bus out to Mellsteninranta it was already evening, with dark clouds covering parts of the sky, but I decided it was worth a try. And it was, alhough the last image was already rather murky.
I had prepared a small rope to tie around the stool, so I could get hold of it and throw it out of sight, but that proved unnecessary. It was fairly easy to frame the image in such a manner that the stool below the branch was cropped out of sight. The first version was more of a close up, with my head cropped out of sight, so I tried a slightly wider framing. That session was recorded only in part; the memory card was full! How stupid of me not to cheque that… so I made the second version once again, and by now it was already quite late. At some point it started to rain, and the drops looked nice on the sea, but the rain subsided before it had really begun. By the time I walked back to the busstop through the woods it was getting cold; I was nevertheless happy to have performed with the alder, and thought I could always return in case the material proved useless. At the moment of writing this I have not edited the works, but only looked at the material, which seemed allright.
The magic purple light pillar (above) was not a UFO descending on the alder stump but a reflection of the bright early morning sun in backlight and dissolved fairly quickly. This effect on Wednesday morning is an apt beginning to the week, which featured the opening of ARS17 at Kiasma museum of Contemporary Art, focused on much stronger effects of artifice.
Changeable weather used to be the hallmark of April, and now also the end of March. On Wednesday morning the sun was shining warmly, the slopes in the park looked almost green and the buds looked like bursting any moment.
On Thursday morning the sunny weather continued, I went out early, so the chill of the night lingered in the air, but the sun was warmer every moment and the sea was almost perfectly still.
On Friday morning all that was gone; a thick layer of snow covered the ground, and the trees; winter had returned. I went out early, but the Snow was already crisscrossed by footprints of dogs. I sat by the tree, freezing, and wondered at the sudden change.
While returning from the park I amused myself with the thought that this total change would make a nice contrast and surprise in the video; good weather can be visually rather uninteresting…
On Thursday night I visited the opening event of ARS17 (see here) and tried to get a glimpse of the exhibition amongst the crowd. There was something familiar in the atmosphere of all these game worlds, internet hype and futuristic dystopias, and unfamiliar, too, of course. From the perspective of somebody beginning their artistic engagements in the eighties this world did not seem that odd, after all, although the technologies were not there yet. So why did I not feel at home? It occurred to me that I was actually beginning my intellectual and artistic life, in a modest sense, in the seventies; my sensibilities are based on the world of the seventies, rather than the eighties, to some extent; I am an old hippie at heart. Of course the real hippies were of the previous generation, but those were the ideas I admired at that time, I suppose. No wonder then that my favorite work in ARS was Julia Varela’s Luddite smashed black screens, which shined like huge slices of obsidian in my eyes. No wonder that I find myself sitting with trees and recording serial images in a minimalistic way, in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get manner year after year. Uh. Perhaps I should go and see the exhibition again, in order to update my sensibilities, or at least understand what is going on…
The Month of the Ash ended yesterday, on the 17th of March, if we believe Robert Graves (see here) and other sources as well (see or here). The choice of which ash tree to visit for the third image in my tree calendar was obvious since several weeks; I knew there was an ash standing on the shore in Kaivopuisto Park near the pier and the cafeteria, so I did not have to guess and decipher the bare branches of the tree in winter shape. I passed by several times and noticed how the branches were too high to sit on, had a vague idea of hanging from the branch, in the same manner I once did hang from the branch of an old pine tree in Kalvola, in Year of the Dog in Kalvola – Calendar. But that time I visited the tree once a month for a year and edited all the moments of hanging to be one continuous movement, which was funny in some way. To hang from a branch real-time without any tools to help me would be impossible, except for a very short moment. So I had to do something else. I realized this weekend would be the last chance to record the ash, so on Saturday I went to do my regular visit to the tree on the hill and then walked down to the shore to visit the ash and see what I could do. I took some photos of the tree from various angles and found a perspective that felt quite allright. After one small test image I decided to simply stand and lean on the tree, with my hand on a broken branch. I also tried to hang, mainly out of a sense of duty – at least I could try, couldn’t I – but had no power to hang there for long enough. After I packed my things and walked toward the park I turned around to take one more snapshot with my phone, and realized that the ash tree looked quite beautiful when seen in full from a distance. So I did another version, recording the image across the path, fully aware that I would get all the passers-by included in the image, too. Thus I have two versions again, Ash in March 1 and Ash in March 2. I actually edited a shorter version of the latter, removing the passersby as well.
I took some still images before I started recording, and they show the ash from various angles:
As part of the artistic research project performing with plants I am supposed to not only perform with plants, or trees, but to write scores about or related to my performances, and that I have not thought about yet, so better to start soon. On twitter I saw a great event score by Yoko Ono, from 1961, Painting for the Wind, which is a form of performing with plants although the wind is the lead character. “Cut a hole in a bag filled with seeds of any kind and place the bag where there is wind. summer 1961” Others are interested in Fluxus today, the research assistant of a Finnish photographer contacted me and asked about Finnish Fluxus scores. I sent her one of my own, but had to admit that I do not know any Finnish Fluxus scores, although Fluxus was rather big in Sweden and Denmark. Starting from an existing score is one thing, and can be inspiring, but creating a score of one’s performance afterwards is another. So how could I score my visits to the trees in Kaivopuisto?
“Find a stub and sit on it, do it again as needed” or “Choose a tree, touch it slowly, repeat at least once a week”, or simply “Visit a tree regularly”.
Yesterday, on Saturday the sun was shining and all Helsinki seemed to be out in the park. Somebody had brought a horse and a sledge there, too, and was taking people on a ride around the park with bells ringing. The sun was warm, there was no wind, everything was lovely, for a change…
Today, on Sunday there was a new world awaiting me outdoors. The heavy fog of the morning was slowly transforming into a mist, and a pale sun was partly visible behind the cloud cover from time to time. The fog lingered as frost on the trees and the open sea had an ice cover again – winter had returned. On the hill by the shore the wind was cold; by the alder the water had frozen, dogs stopped by the tree stub to make fresh marks, and the bird watchers were out again with their huge telescope lenses. The horse sledge from yesterday was there, too.
So what about the score? “Sit on a stub look around; do it again the following day; notice the changes.” Or should I say enjoy the changes?
While entering the park today I noticed, for some reason, the monument next to the tree, which I usually ignore. A view from higher on the slope reveals the granite slabs standing quite near to it. They commemorate Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (1832-1901) who was an explorer and scientist, the first one to sail the whole Northeast passage, that is, along the north coast of Asia. He was born in Finland but had to move to Sweden because of his views on Russian politics. The monument is designed by Heikki Häiväoja, and you find more information about it here.
Two days ago, on Thursday morning, the snow was still falling when I left home, but it stopped by the time I was at the shore. The sun came out and then disappeared again, changing the whole landscape dramatically, back and forth…
On Friday morning it was still chilly, minus 6 degrees celsius, but sunny and clear. I realised a structural problem with my images: the morning sun shines beautifully from the east, as a side light, revealing the forms of the tree trunks when I am sitting on the hill, but it shines me directly in the eyes, and thus blinds the camera, too, when I sit on the alder stub down in the park. And that does not look very nice, as you can see…
On Saturday, today, I went out a little later, around noon, and the sun was not so bright today, shining momentarily from behind the clouds. There was not much wind, but it was could enough for me to keep my cap on. While sitting and looking at the small Uuninsuu strait I can observe the changes in the ice cover from day to day. Although the sea is mostly open further out, there is much ice on the northeastern side of Harakka Island. But I would not walk across the ice now, although I guess it would still be possible. And if this chilly weather continues it will probably take time before the ice disappears. Soon it is time for thaw. We call it “kelirikko” in Finnish, broken weather or broken road conditions.
Visiting my tree partners in Kaivopuisto on Wednesday morning was a delight. The sun was shining from a bright sky and felt actually warm; there was absolutely no wind, so sitting on the tree trunk looking at the icecovered sea was pure pleasure. The sun was so strong I almost had to close my eyes.
On thursday morning, what a shift in atmospere! The temperature was almost the same, but no sun and some wind made for a cold and grey day. I changed the order of the images and began with the alder stub inside the park, before walking up to the hill and the view over Uuninsuu strait, which was now partly open. My plan was to continue to the island across the ice after visiting the trees. It looked scary, but I decided to go down and take a closer look. Perhaps I could phone Osmo who planned to go across today, to have some company, or ask whether he already made it. When I walked down I saw tree people walking across the ice and tried to hurry to catch up with them, but by the time I was on the shore next to the small piece of wood placed across the rocks at the beginning of the ice, they were already almost on the other side. I tried to shout and ask where they had walked, but gave up before even trying when I realized that although I might be able to cross to the island after them now, I would have to come back alone. I would not want to to stay all day there working, as they probably would do. In short, I behaved like an old sissy and turned back.
Friday morning, the weather was wet and misty. And there was plenty of water on the ice here and there; I did not even consider crossing to the island this time. By the time I was up on the hill the mist had cleared somewhat and there was no rain, although the branches had drops. When returning to the alder across the hill the ice was so slippery with water that I sat down and tried to slide down the slope, with my big plastic bag containing the camera and the tripod sliding down next to me.
There were again bird watchers around the nearby shrubs and this time I got to know what all those people with their huge camera objectives and binoculars were interested in. A passer-by with a small border collie asked me whether the Black-throated Trush was still around, because he assumed that was what I had used my camera for. Seeing my bewilderment he explained that it is a small bird usually nesting in the Ural Mountains that had been sighted there at the birds’ feeding place. At home I looked it up, and there was indeed an image of the bird taken in that very park the day before, see here.
Rowans are not so easy to find in Helsinki, it seemed, but when I googled images of rowans and then looked where they had been taken, I found some places. One of them was Haahkatie in Lauttasaari, that is, Ådvägen på Drumsö, near my old school as a child. I also remembered the small rowan I fastened my swing on more than a year ago in Särkiniemi Park in the vicinity, when I performed at the opening of the LARU Human Era environmental art exhibition. Thus I decided to make an excursion and see if I could find a suitable rowan for my calendar performance in Lauttasaari. The rowans near Haahkakuja looked pretty but the surroundings were not so interesting with all the big buildings so I walked along the shore all the way to Särkiniemi peninsula. Most of the trees along the shore were alders, willows and birches. There were some rowans, too, but most of them small and slender and entwined with other trees. Only after taking a tea break in the nearest pub, and deciding to try to do something with some of the not so suitable rowans I had passed, did I actually notice an older rowan near the shore with a low branch to climb on to. For some reason I wanted to stand next to the tree rather than sit on it.
After a quick look at the first image I thought my position looked weird and decided to try another pose, with my feet together.
The result looked even more strange because I am clutching the tree trunk, so I decided to make one more attempt by simply sitting on the branch.
And now the memory card was full, of course, so only the very beginning of the session was recorded. There was nothing else to do but to clean the card from old stuff and sit on the branch one more time. During my first sitting a whole group of ice skaters passed by, and I wondered whether they would be visible in the image. During the second sitting I heard some strange banging noice and realised only later that it was the sound of a car door. A newly wedded couple had arrived on the shore to take their wedding photo. I left them smiling in front of the ice and snow and hurried back to the city centre. – When I looked at the material in the evening I realized the images were all rather bland and grey and wondered whether I should visit the tree once more …
When Sunday seemed at least partly sunny I took the bus directly to the park with the plan to remake the same image in brighter light. While in the park I decided to take a walk and see if there would be other interesting rowans because there was an area I did not visit yesterday. I found a beautiful little rowan by the shore; the only problem being it was near the path with lots of people passing by all the time. I wanted to give it a try, so I started the new day with a new rowan.
I liked the image but there was too much traffic so I tried to place the tripod next to the tree, but there were other trees nearby that I did not want in the image, and I tried to have the sea in the background as well. A compromise of sorts was the only solution I could find, a close up with a little bit of the sea. I tried two versions of sitting on the branches that were cut off and formed a stool of sorts.
I was not happy with these close up images, but could not find any other solution, so I went to visit the old rowan from yesterday and sat for a while there. This image, too, was partly in back light.
Based on the still images one cannot decide much; only editing the video will reveal which image I can try to use, depending on the amounts of passers-by and how they behave. At least I have some material now for the February image, the Month of the Rowan.
These days the weather is changeable.
Sunday at noon, after a quick walk to Uunisaari looking for rowan trees, hoping to recognise them from some remaining berries, I went up on the hill. There was a cold wind with strong sudden gusts, but I noticed only afterwards that my camera had fallen down, recording the sky and parts of the tree, not such a bad choice of framing, actually. I sat for a second time, freezing, but chose not put on my woollen cap, after all it was hardly minus degrees. The second mishap or incident that time: the right lens of my cheap reading spectacles fell off, and I could not repair it, so had to close one eye instead, in order to see anything. The images got done, however…
Sitting on the alder stub was such a luxury after the windy spot up on the hill – but you have to suffer for the view, I suppose…
Monday morning, snow and wind, which felt like a snow storm, at least while sitting up on the hill facing the open sea, more like a soft snow fall when sitting on the alder stub inside the park. This time the weather was so cold and raw that I decided to wear my cap, and it helped protecting parts of my face. Unfortunately it looks rather stupid in the image. To avoid the tripod tumbling over I had with me a piece of rock in a plastic bag to use as a weight to keep the main of the weight of the tripod low to stabilise it, and it worked. The camera did not fall this time, despite the heavy wind. The wind stopped the camera, however, at some point, mysteriously, almost immediately after I went to sit. Was the energy needed in the cold too much for the battery, or did the humidity of the wet snow create the problem? I still do not know what happened. So I had to repeat the sitting again, this time the close up version. The weather was rather painful, so the sessions were much shorter this time, although I counted the same amount of breaths but I was simply breathing more rapidly.
The funniest part was the effect of the snow flakes covering the lens in the close up image, which turned into a grey surface in the end.
Meanwhile, the snow was softly falling by the alder inside the park, creating an idyllic winter view.
Tuesday morning, all the snow was gone. There was a light breeze from the west, barely reaching the trees on the hill, so sitting with the tree was fairly enjoyable – and no mishaps this time.
The strange brown pool of dirty water, with a frozen surface, looked disgusting, but proved no obstacle for placing the tripod after all…