Existential Conifer Experience

Last year I was invited to spend five days resident in a Pinetum in Canterbury. The Pinetum consists of a collection of conifers from all over the world and some of the trees are extremely old and rare. The residency was part of a wider artists residency event hosted by Sondryfolk, conducted to mark the art collective’s transition from Canterbury to Bristol. Sondryfolk decided to send a Bristol based artist on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. I was selected as my practice was currently investigating displacement of body and place, which related to the nomadic essence of Sondryfolk.

The site was mainly three parts: deciduous ancient woodland, medieval coppice, and the Pinetum. The Pinetum floor was an emerald green lawn. The deciduous woodland floor was covered in hazel leaf litter and brambles. Throughout, there were thousands early bluebell shoots which permeated the woodland floor. This was the only sign of spring as the weather was damp, cold and very windy. Every morning, mist would veil the trees, and before sun rose, the Pinetum air hung still and wet amongst the piny figures.

During my stay a storm passed through the woodland. The wind battered the wooden hut that I sheltered in. It was during this storm and in the dead of night that I became most excitable. That evening I ventured out into the Pinetum in hope of experiencing the woodland in a different way. The rain hit my face in sheets. The heavy, velvety sky was crowded with swaying silhouetted branches, and the Pinetum groaned with the rushing sound of wind blowing through needles.

When I returned to the hut, I lit a fire to warm the room.  After I left the dark and boisterous outdoors for the security and warm shelter of the hut, I felt extremely relaxed. The wind and rain continued to thrash and flay as I settled down snugly in front of my little burner. Before that evening I felt like a stranger. After I had let myself playfully drift amongst the storm, the Pinetum and I were better acquainted.

As a performance artist, location plays an important role in my work. My practice is topologically routed in landscape in which environment and identity are integral. During my stay in the Pinetum, I spent most of the time working with materials that played a large part in the place’s identity. Other than investigating the place as a landscape I spent many hours chatting with the Pinetum residents. We talked at length about the history of the woodland, how it made us feel and what the trees meant as a collection rather than a natural ecosystem. One of the residents talked of the tress as refugees. He also mentioned that his friend saw them as a parliament of trees representing the different species. I decided to express these concepts by documenting a performance where I played a conifer having an existential experience. Within this theatrical scenario the conifer appears unsettled and unhappy. It then abandons its identity as a conifer and moves on to an unknown place. As a visitor to the Pinetum I was able to investigate the important relationship between place and identity; this existential nomadism highlights what it means to belong and what it is to be a foreigner.

For more information about residency opportunities at the Pinetum, please contact info [at] sondryfolk.com