[Note: this text is a transcript of the audio piece Dancing Forests and other stories (2020)]
Can a forest be a participatory monument?
Let me take us to the forest with an exercise to open our senses through the act of radical listening. This exercise will let us explore listening by activating our very own embodied sound archive. Embodied sound archives are the summary of all our encounters of sound throughout our lifetimes. Let us imagine that our personal sound archives (are the soundtracks of our lives) and that they create a narrative of all our experiences. Listening is a method in artistic practice and research in the public sphere that has the potential to be a shared experience as well as an individual one.
Let us explore, getting to know our “Embodied Sound Archive” by entering the forest. While you are listening, I will guide you into the forest. Before I start explaining what makes a participatory monument, we will begin with a listening exercise to practice our relation to the forest.
Let’s start with exercise. Think of a forest environment that makes you feel safe:
- What sound memories does the forest open up?
- Are you thinking of a single moment or several ones?
- Are you in the company of others?
- Do you hear voices or noises made by human or other than non-human sounds?
- Close your eyes and listen.
(sound fades in)
Let’s continue to keep our eyes closed and listen as I share my entry into my embodied forest.
Experience the Sight of
green, brown, deadfall, fallen trees, logs, branches, twigs, fallen leaves, ferns, underbrush, moss, shrubs, berry bushes, pine needles, pine cones, acorns, insects, rabbits, birds, squirrels, mice, foxes, spider webs, deer, sun-dappled, shady, stones, shafts…
Experience the Sounds of
branches creaking, feet shuffling through detritus, squirrels chattering, leaves rustling, wind whistling disturbing the leaves, birds singing, insects humming and churring, rustle of animals rooting in the underbrush, scrabbling of lizards on tree bark, limbs …
Experience the Smell of
trees,pine, wildflowers, earthy smell, animal scents, rotting wood, fresh, stale, damp, wet, scents on the wind from nearby places, water, wood smoke, mud, wild mint, herbs, decay, bogs, stagnant pools of water …
Experience the Taste of
earthy air, sweet and sour berries, nuts, mushrooms, seeds, bitter, mint, gritty, relish, savour, sample, salty, acidic, sweet, flavorful, sour, flavourless, mild, nutty, raw …
Experience the Touch of
rough tree bark, falling leaves, branches slapping, uneven ground, knobby roots underfoot, sticky sap, underbrush that tangles and grabs, braking twigs, the prickle of nettles, slick leaves, twigs snagging at hair, scratching the face, the tickle of hanging moss, spider web strands on the skin, soft staws and soft moss…
We have entered the forest, four hectares in size.
We’re ready to listen to the lecture that investigates the sustainable nature of participatory monuments. It’s through the lens of ecology and artistic research in the public sphere, that is, in public space and the public imagination, employing “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge”. Besides, this lecture examines how places and spaces in relation to participatory experiences are transformed into works of art. Forest Calling seeks to expand the understanding of the forest as a participatory monument by exploring it as an embodiment of sensorial sites and as an extended social vocabulary. The forest is in many cultures recognised for its connection to human and other than human co-existence. The forest has a specific assemblage of symbioses, histories, temporalities and our relationships with other life forms as well as with human movements. Researching the examination of historical and scientific material, we translate lived experiences into an archive of methodology and a vocabulary of site and place. We contend that the more we delve into the extended field of art in public spaces, the more we can glean an understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Accordingly, one has to look at the politics of place and space by focusing on our shared experiences as witnesses in the public sphere.
Therefore, an artwork such as “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” investigates how we choose to recall and activate memory play as an integral part of art and art-making. It requires informed ethical practices on how we relate to one another and our environment. Moreover, for artists working in the public sphere, this offers the opportunity to probe further the role of the artist in the social realm. Artistic research into place and space in the public sphere has challenged my own understanding of art and memory as well as that of participants and collaborators. I find that art-making and thinking about art-making is itself an approach to research. It’s the lens through which thinking occurs. Consequently, my investigation into the understanding of future, past and present remembrance and forgetting in the public sphere has been based on “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge”—which has explored the potential of the performative monument and led me to discover and define the term “participatory monument.” I have set out the following points to clarify this term.
The participatory monument:
- Brings the public into the work, engaging them as participants through interaction with remembrance and forgetting.
- Can include anyone interested and willing as a participant.
- Activates memory and contributes to forming collective memory through participation and dialogue.
- Is not based on a scripted dialogue and does not direct participants’ behaviour or movement.
- Includes participants as witnesses, observers, and contributors.
- Has a framework that is temporary and time-limited in nature focused on critical material and a social situation at the time initiated.
- Is not defined by or limited to particular media, materials, or technology.
- Gives the artist a role in creating a situation, place, or event that open up an exchange between the narrative material in the work and the participants.
- Requires the artist to be present in the making of the work and to be available and connected at every stage of the process.
I consider of “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” to be a participatory monument. Firstly, because of the participatory nature of Forest Calling, and how it only becomes activated through participation.
This is my experience with participatory monuments, both in my own works and in others, this is true whether you are experiencing the work on-site or online. Moreover, a participatory monument can be present in both public space and sphere, depending on the form of engagement, because the artwork only becomes activated through public participation. Participants are the carriers of collective memory and activate the public space or public sphere through the sharing of their art experience with others. In my opinion, this demonstrates how the participatory monument empowers its participants. The participants’ presence makes the knowledge of the artworks actual, thus activating them and demonstrating how art can be part of the discourse on remembrance and forgetting in the public sphere.
Secondly, because participatory and socially engaged art brings the public into the art-making by expanding it to include trans-disciplinary inquiry and collaboration, what I term a participatory monument must also incorporate ethical processes into the methodology and framework of art-making. Participants must each be treated with due ethical consideration, and transparency is a crucial component in working with memory. This is how we engage on a personal level, developing a shared understanding as to how the information they provide will be used, and confidentiality is a must when working with the public. The participants’ consent must be obtained before their contribution is presented as you choose to enter the forest and engage within on its own premises; the right to terminate the participation can happen at any time. Thus, it is essential to make clear the conditions and to get agreements at every level about the material gathered through the collaboration and to discuss how their participation will be presented. It is a contract the artist must honour when working with collective memory and site.
Importantly, in turn, the direction of the work must be informed exchanges with participants futures, past and present.
To enact this contract requires active listening. So, thirdly, I have found that such acts of listening require patience, resilience and tolerance. It’s the open exchange with the participant that allows for difference to be embraced and consciousness to grow. Presence is a form of embodied translation of language.
Finally, I have realised that memory can be imagined as a light reflected through a prism, reflecting parts of history, but never the whole of it. Participatory monuments are an attempt to use this “prism” as an attempt to understand memory through art-making. If we cannot remember the past, it is often said, we are condemned to repeat it. I believe that remembrance without gleaning greater understanding can also be destructive and condemning. We still understand too little about the ways in which identity, gender, and class differences inform our collective consciousness. There remains a critical need for an ongoing inquiry into our cultural, colonial past and ongoing colonialism through modes of remembrance and forgetting. We have yet to fully open up history beyond the convention of being told from more privileged positions and that, too, is to the detriment of others. By inviting participants into the artwork, Forest Calling activates a different way of practising memorialisation by opening up like a prism to reflect light into the darkest corners of our shared histories past and present.
While many artists in recent decades have addressed forms of participation in public spaces, we must remain active, ever vigilant, in rethinking the past in the present, bringing more enlightened perspectives into not only academic discourse but also daily life and our collective consciousness. We must encourage further investigations into the field because we find there is an urgent need to redefine the artist’s role and position in this public discourse. As artists, our inner worlds and reflections are translated into artworks and meet the public through the experience of art. The participatory monument is a contribution by artists consciously working in participatory and socially engaged art, as well as to past, present future participants in the public sphere.
“Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” reflects on how we investigate and interpreted collective memory and remembrance as artwork and practice in the public sphere, that is, in public space and the public imaginary.
In addition, it expands on and examines how remembrance and memory are transformed into works of art. A Participatory Monument seeks to expand the understanding of consciousness by exploring it as an embodiment of sensorial practice and as an extended social vocabulary. Memory resides in our everyday social relationships, movements and behaviour as well as in memorials and traditions of remembrance. Accordingly, as we look at the politics of remembering and forgetting by focusing on our personal experiences as witnesses in the public sphere. “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” examines a site, historical material, and translates these lived experiences into an archive of methodology and a vocabulary of remembrance and forgetting.
“Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” brings out hidden histories of marginalised voices and ways of co-existence in the public sphere. When entering the forest of “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” I want you to be confronted with a set of very specific questions: What materialises when human and other than human histories and memories collide? Who are the guardians of the forest as a living archive? Which of our memories are the ones worth keeping? If we could erase the most painful ones, should we? Before you think of answers, I have found one key question to help the critically enter the work. It is an intimate question with no short answer: Whose story has the right to be retold and remembered? “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” is a participatory monument, activated by storytellers and listeners–witnesses in time.
Through the act of presence “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” enables us to understand our desire to create an inseparable bond between memory and sites. I think artworks can encourage us to share and reflect upon our memories, histories and experiences. Sharing how we perceive moments in time and deepen our co-existence, which, in return, build relations, empathy, and a greater understanding of our personal and collective identities. We all remember and memorialise differently, and our interpretations of our memories expand our evolving knowledge and transcend our differences.
Making art is a powerful way to contextualise memory and express them to others. Through listening to our environment, its sounds become part of our consciousness. The experience of presence can be empowering because it makes us reflect on our own memories and connected them with specific moments in our own lives.
Working with memory is painful. It’s hard, and it makes you very vulnerable because it’s nature is emotional. Working with sites of memory in public space is a demanding process. Recounting memories that reflect all of us is a shared responsibility, to create awareness of representation and, at times, its absence in public space. So “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” calls for awareness of every living being.
In our lifetime, we experience countless monuments, sites of memory—all of which are works in honour of memory.
For me, “Forest Calling – A Never-Ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge” is a reminder of our shared responsibility, and that it is crucial that we explore new ways of co-existence. As participants in the participatory monument, we are all storytellers, narrators, and witnesses of another temporalities and readings of sites of memory. Its time to protect the forest’s agency and viability for an infinite future that allows re-thinking and acting to reimagine the world through the fabric of our overlapping narratives.