forest-time:::transmissions from a future forest
January 1, 2019
Today I sit at a snowy 6500 feet above sea level, inside a modest cabin, about 20 miles north of Lake Tahoe. I’ve been here alone for 6 days, skiing, filming, hiking and writing at the University of California’s Sage Hen Field Station, for the first session of a 4 part artist residency. My original reason for coming here was to conduct research and develop a new segment of my ongoing project Lessons From the Forest. Lessons from the Forest part 5, Forest-time, was to be about how multiple time scale co-exist, or how diverse life cycles are interwoven in an ecosystem. Imagine the lifetime of a tree transposed over that of a chickadee, coyote or mushroom. I’ll conduct extensive fieldwork across the Sierras, Coastal Ranges and Northern Cascades to produce a new body of work including sculpture, video, live cinema performance with projec- tion mapping and song.
At the center of my trans-disciplinary project, is an investigation into the idea of Time, how this concept or construct is rendered in a forest, in a computer, a human. How might nonlinear perspectives on time allow us to see beyond anthropocentric, existential hang ups to a less hierarchical and more equitable global society, economy and ecology? Time is more material, less linear than we were led to believe. It’s in the sound, in the soil, the trees, the sea, the salmon, the whales, their bones, your bones. Whose time is it anyways? Or is it that time owns us or is there just no such thing? Only a multi-layered infinite now.
On November 8th, 2018 I began to reconsider the focus of my research as I watched in horror and from a distance the devastation wrought by the Camp Fire in Butte County CA. Even though my loved ones were miles away from the flames, images and stories from friends living in the Bay and Sierra Nevadas, buying masks just to be outside under a strange sky dense with particulates and an ominous red sun overhead, I could not help but think this felt familiar. At home in Washington, my phone pinged as I received automated texts from former employers in California, announcing school closures across the Bay. I flashed back to October ’17 when I woke at 1AM to the smell of smoke, my phone glowing with texts from Sonoma State University, announcing campus closures and evacuation instructions. Flash forward to 2018, this is no anomaly, this is the new normal.
Indeed, multiple timescales co-exist because what was done to forests in the West by white settlers, speculators, railroaders and loggers a century ago, through clear cutting and industrialized reforestation, combined with climate change has delivered us these montane ecosys- tems ripe for wildfires at a scale never known before. Absorbing the news of all the lives lost or violently disrupted due to western wildfires, we are beginning to understand that how the forest goes, we go.
Is the image so entrenched in western mythology of vast and dense mountain forests, spread- ing beyond the horizon, really a product of western expansionism and powerful extractive economies? How were forests managed 200, 500, 1200 years ago? How will healthy forests be maintained in the future and how should our relationships evolve to fire?
With logging interests greatly diminished (or rather relocated to Canada), in a 180 degree turn, ecologists, land managers and foresters are moving away from the fire suppression model that created in large part the dangerous wildfire conditions that currently exist throughout the west. More and more, we may look towards controlled burns, or with the co- operation and ecological knowledge of indigenous peoples, cultural burns.
So today we look to the past to build a future forest.
Forest-time is new eco-feminist sci-fi that begins as a power-point presentation on fire ecology, past, and present, that gradually devolves into a primal live-cinema performance about sticky entanglements across ecologies, economies and time-scales. Produced in tandem with Forest- time, Transmissions from a Future Forest will exist as a new series of sculptures and props inspired by ad hoc forestry data collection instruments and equipment.
My sculpture, performance, writing, sound work, and video is layered, like a cosmic ecological sandwich. I identify systems that involve both human and extra human participants. [In my view there is no divide or border between us, despite our best or worst efforts. There is no wall long or tall enough to stop the interweaving of the species’ fate.] But I am no scientist, or authority on anything but my own way, and that is even questionable at best. So my work asks ques- tions, about relationships, between us and them, humanity and animals, plants and people, our bodies and the universe. In the gaps between our working with and against it, our feeling at home or out of place, there lie deeper truths that can lead us to our better nature and a more stable future. Because it’s all nature. Understanding our place in it leads towards under- standing ourselves.
Anderson, M Kat, Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources, university of California Press, 2005
Egan, Timothy, The Big Burn | Teddy Roosevelt and the fire that saved America, Houghton Mifflin Har- court, 2009
Ferguson, Gary, Land on Fire, The New Reality of Wildfires in the West, Timber Press, 2017