What We Lose in Metrics
13 April – 19 June 2016
Opening Reception: Wednesday, April 13, 6 – 9 pm
A popular colloquialism is that one “can’t see the forest for the trees.” And yet can we even see a tree for what it is? “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way,” William Blake wrote in 1799. “Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” Here at the origins of the capitalist era, Blake opposed imagination to the Enlightenment project where a deformed nature was to be demystified and corrected. No more deep dark woods of the Grimm fairy tales, in this utilitarian world that we have inherited trees are meant for harvesting. Forests have been uniformly managed into columns of statistics.*
(* For instance: Forests occupy 66% of the province of Ontario, and comprise 2% of the world’s forests. This is reckoned as 85 billion trees of which there are 7 billion cubic metres of growing stock. Most forests in Ontario are Crown Land, 44% of which are managed for forestry, which makes up 26% of the province all together. The total harvest area is 114,110 hectares and the total forest harvest volume is 12.6 million cubic metres. The monetary value of the forestry section in 2012 was $11.5 billion.)
In this exhibition, Public Studio asks us what we lose in such metrics, in turning forests into standing reserves for commodity exploitation. What has been given up and what needs to be regenerated in this pragmatic notion of the natural world in which we all participate? For millennia before we began to cultivate forests, they conditioned us psychologically.
The word “forest” has come to mean a large wooded area, although etymologically it can
be traced to the Latin word foris, meaning “outside.” Thus begins our complex relationship with the forest—something that at once is “outside” ourselves and something that sustains us. Metaphorically the forest symbolizes the part of our psyche that is unknown, and stands in darkness until we come to the “clearing”—more than fall upon the devastation of a clear-cutting. Given this lack of understanding of our place in the natural world, Public Studio speculate whether there is a possibility of alternate cosmologies of nature.
We enter the exhibition through a tunnel as if a path through the woods. It is dark but dappled with light, like the forest of Akira Kurosawa’s famous film Rashomon. At the end, already deep within, lies a cabin. Have we walked into a nightmare or a forest idyll? Within this cabin, to a soundtrack (designed by Berlin sound artist Anna Friz) that hovers just at the level of our anxiety, or premonition, a cascade of images falls through the forest, all in black and white and collaged together in rapid pursuit of each other: Apocalypse Now, Rambo, Bambi, Avatar, Rashomon, and more. They are evidence, through all their genres, of the pervasive and profound symbol of the forest as a place of refuge or ambush, of evil or enchantment—of hunter or hunted.
If we wander, behind the cabin we stumble upon the video game The Path, which rehearses the way we just took to grannie’s house. The journey then begins again, this time in digital form, as we traverse the towering forest along what may be a logging road. This forest is imposing yet familiar, its image just shimmering out of stillness. In the distance, another path beckons and leads to two video games, The Witcher and Dragon Age Inquisition. Have we figured out that we too are advancing in the stages of a real-life video game; but are we hunter or hunted?
We travel on. A clearing lies ahead, filled with the blazing light of a giant LED screen, the type found beside freeways. Advertising no product, instead it proclaims a Rights of Nature, written for this exhibition by Haida lawyer Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson. Cleverly detourned, the screen is also now a giant grow light. The scent of fresh foliage fills the air, coming from a grove of saplings nurtured in the gallery, preparing there for their biodiverse planting based on the ideas of Canadian scientist Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s Bioplan.
We are safely through. In our passage through these dread woods perhaps we have recognized the reserve of deep memory the forest stands for—a psychic and symbolic archive we all share.