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…
Visiting the nearby Kaivopuisto Park first thing in the morning – well, not first thing, but first thing out of the house – already begins to feel like a practice. I have decided not to make it too demanding, so a few times a week will be enough. And I am already curious to see how the landscape will change, and how my partner, the strange tree with many trunks that I sit on these mornings on the hill overlooking the sea will change. I am not sure if it is a group of trees that has grown together, or a tree that has grown many stems out of one root. Two of the tree trunks are cut, and four remain, although only three are visible in the images, so at some point they were six. The remains of one trunk are hollow; it looks like it was rotten and therefore cut. But the other one, which is cut rather high above ground, looks perfectly solid, and I wonder why it was cut, perhaps by mistake? The tree seems to be a linden tree, after all, because there are small branches growing straight out of the trunk near the root. But based on the dry leaves around the tree it is impossible to tell, because there are oak leaves and maple leaves and all kinds of leaves, perhaps brought there by the wind. – Now the images tend to look rather similar, which means I have managed to find a framing that is relatively easy to maintain, and the changes in weather conditions are not very clearly distinguishable from a still image. On video you can see a little bit more, and while sitting there, performing, or rather breathing slowly, small shifts in temperature, wind force and humidity make all the difference between pleasure and pain.
Sitting on the stub of the alder further down in the park, on the way home, is easier, because the site is more protected and the wind has less force. And there I sit only once, so the there is not so much time to freeze. That image is rather funny, I feel sitting on the stump is like sitting on a rock, there is not much contact with the tree itself, unlike sitting with or within the linden – I call them linden for want of a better name so far – because there I am really intruding into their world.
Monday morning images:
Tuesday morning images:
Today, while walking at the shore in Munkkiniemi, looking for suitable twisted pine trees to climb in, I saw all kind of other trees that looked inviting, including two nice birch trees. Then I suddenly remembered a blog post I read last night, stating that the Celtic month of the Rowan begins today. (See here) I have worked with the Celtic Tree Alphabet before, in a series of small site-specific audio works or monologs called Talking Trees, so the idea of a tree calendar seemed familiar enough. I realised I could create a Tree Calendar with small video clips, each one with the tree of the month. And I immediately also realised that if I wanted to start with the month of the birch, which actually ended yesterday, I should perform with a birch now, today. The weather was perfect and the birches would be clearly distinguishable against the snow on the ice. Arguably the weather would not be that dissimilar, so a calendar image could be created one day too late. So, why not? After a rather long walk along the shore, through beautiful pine forest – not a single one of them twisted at all, and with no branches anywhere low – I returned to the two birches that had caught my eye to begin with and decided to try. It was trickier than I thought to get up on the rather low branches, I hurt my rib rather badly with the first tree, by mistake, but managed to drag myself up and sat there for a while marvelling at the sun on the ice. I made another attempt with the other birch, a little larger image, that is, with a little more distance to the camera, and that birch proved even harder to climb up to, but I succeeded in the end. It is rather alarming how week my arms have become, they can barely take my own weight. My original idea with the two birches was to make two images that could be combined, placed next to each other, as if two characters were looking at each other, but as it turned out these images are not to be combined that way but stand clearly as two alternatives. Luckily I do not have to decide now which one is the “real” one, or which one to use. Probably I will make two versions of both, one which includes my struggle to get up in the tree, and one which is static, more like a still image. The first birch is more graphic, with light from the side:
The second birch is more flat, but the landscape with the yellow reeds looks great:
I placed my bag between the camera on tripod and the tree to discourage passersby from walking in front of the camera, to now avail. But the snapshots taken with my smartphone look much sharper than the stills from the video recorded with my “real” camera. They were meant to document the situation.
This morning I had planned to remake the image with the tree in Kaivopuisto Park and to adjust the position of the tripod somewhat. I dressed in warm clothes and at ten o’clock, when it was sufficiently light, or at least as light as it would get with the cloud cover, I headed out. There was not too much of a snowfall, but once outside I realised the wind was rather strong. When walking down to the shore I changed my mind and thought I might visit the tree I saw on the way back from the park last time, instead. The old alder with one trunk cut off was such a sad sight, but it was situated further away from the sea, and was at least partly protected from the wind. I placed the tripod quite far towards the street in such a way that the light pole was hidden behind the remaining trunk, removed my coat and cap, put on my pale pink scarf and sat down on the stump. The park was empty and peaceful due to the harsh weather and the relatively early hour, but of course the dogs were out. A small dachshund with a red dress came by and started barking at me, at this strange creature sitting exactly where the dog would have liked to pee, probably.
Sitting on the stump felt almost like sitting on a bench, and the image is fine or ok at least, so this might very well be a tree worth visiting regularly.
After walking around in the freezing cold last week, looking for suitable tree partners, and working with my two trees in Stockholm during the weekend, I decided on Monday that I finally had to begin somewhere. So I returned to the tree in Kajsaniemi Park, which I remembered had looked promising, although I was too cold to stop and explore when I saw it the first time. But no, the angle was really quite sharp and the tree was uninviting, hard to approach, too much of an effort.
I tried from both directions, but did not feel satisfied, and realised that a practice that did not feel good to begin with would be hard to keep up wit. – On Tuesday morning, as soon as there was some light, I headed for Kaivopuisto Park with the dual purpose of first emptying my small boat of all the melting snow and ice and then of making an attempt with some trees near the shore. I was delighted to see that the sea was open, so my leaving the boat in the ice had been a risk worth taking. With gloves too wet to wear, I walked up into the park, where I remembered looking at a group of trees on the slope. And yes, they would provide an easy place to sit on, and a nice view if the camera was positioned well. Based on the leaves on the ground I could not deduce what tree it was; there were oak leaves and maple leaves and whatever. I vaguely remembered the trees might be silver willows, but was not sure.
I made two attempts, one with the camera further away, one quite close up. The images do not look that pleasant, but it was quite comfortable to sit on the low trunk, leaning against the one on the right, despite the icy wind. In the larger image I managed to adjust the horizon in the middle, but in the close up I had to lift the horizon up. Only afterwards did I realise that the close up should be taken from a lower angle, with the tripod smaller. Perhaps next time.
After a week of illness and rest, and holiday parties, too, I finally decided it was time to take my camera and try to do something. I had brought it with me to my usual lunch shack at the beach once before, and at that time I took some still images of an interesting old tree lying almost horizontally on the beach. I had seen it many times and started to feel affectionate towards it, and marvelled at its strange dead looking trunk, which nevertheless supported the branches with green leaves.
Unfortunately I was not the only one that was fond of the tree. There were always kids climbing on it or people sitting in the two swings hanging from on branch or taking photos of each other against its trunk. At some point I planned to come and record it early in the morning, but finally decided that I should first look further afield.
So today I decided to bring not only my camera but my tripod, too, and continued along the beach, climbed over rocks at low tide, found more beach shacks, some big black rocks and more beach. I turned back after a while and decided to take a few images of the old and dry tree trunks lying on one narrow part of the beach. Just to get started, I guess.
I found a spot to place my camera on tripod in such a way that passers-by would not pass between me and the camera behind me, or so I thought. Of course there were people who did that too, eventually. Anyway, fascinated by the almost rock-like grey wood lying there, like the remains of a giant being, I sat for a while next to the old corpse, despite passers-by moving along and despite the sun burning my skin. Although the image looks a lot like many other images I’ve made, at least I have now started.
Today, the day after, I spent most of the day walking the nature path in the nearby National Park, carrying my camera and tripod, in vain. The environment was great and some of the views on the path were extraordinary, but there was nowhere I wanted to stop to sit for a while. In the afternoon, after returning, I decided to go and visit the tree I saw on the beach yesterday, and it proved easy to sit in. The tree was plagued by some insects, I guess, because most of its leaves were perforated, but otherwise it seemed strong.
I made two versions, because there were so many passers-by during the first one, and also, because I was not sure about the framing of the image. Nevertheless the first, shorter version might be the better one.
And finally, today, on the last day of 2016, in the afternoon, I made one last attempt by the big dead tree trunk at low tide: