Presentation of Forest Calling – A Never-ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge by Malin Arnell and Åsa Elzén

Today is the 10 of September 2020, and it’s around 3 pm. We are sitting on two busses that take us, 50 people, through the landscape of Södermanland. In about 40 minutes the bus will let us off for the second time on this journey. This time it will be on a dirt road located at Fogelstad Estate’s grounds, close to lake Aspen in Julita, Katrineholm Municipality.

We will get off the bus and walk down the dirt road for some 15 minutes before we will enter the 3.7 hectares in the form of a triangle, which is in its becoming – a public artwork, a forest, and a habitat for endless and endless dead and alive vibrant matter.

From a Swedish forest policy perspective, nothing makes this specific forest different from the nearby forest areas. It’s all defined and used as production forest. Less than 10% of the forest in Sweden qualifies as ”old-growth forest” and it is debatable whether we even have forest that can be defined as ”primeval forest”. From this perspective, we will step into a timber-, paper- wood pulp material factory – a machinery of national pride and of property value. A historical document. A history of labour and efficiency.

We, Malin Arnell and Åsa Elzén, have made a cut. A cut in the deforestation plan. Entered into a 50-year long lease agreement. The lease makes it possible to take the forest out of production as a means to secure its agency and survival in infinite future.

As in many older production forests, life in boundless variations still emerges, world-makings are on-going. We have not yet carried through a species inventory of the habitat. No one has, so no key biotopes are, as of yet, declared, and thus, there is no biotope protection. Our hope is that within the coming 50 years the 3.7 hectares will qualify as an “older natural forest-like forest” worth protecting.

We will move in multiple directions. Triangular formations. We take a step away from the forest at the same time as we take a step forward and make a claim for the forest and it’s contaminated collaborations and processes.

A few days ago the World Wide Fund for Nature, released a new report that points out that species and ecosystem services of the forest are at stake. If politicians don’t act forcefully to stop this negative development, it risks hitting Sweden hard, both environmentally and economically.

The report highlights the effects of historical and contemporary forestry. Although Sweden reports to the EU that the habitat in 14 out of 15 different types of forests are not favorable to biodiversity, the equivalent of approximately 32 000 football fields of biologically valuable forest is clearcut annually.

According to the SLU Species Data Bank, almost 90 percent of the forest’s 2041 red-listed species are negatively affected by forest clearcutting. Many of these species are likely to become extinct unless the ambition of forest politics is strengthened. To achieve this, Swedish forest politics must be changed.

In 2016 as part of YES! Association/Föreningen JA!, we fly to New York to finalize the Hannah Arendt Memorial Smoking Porch as part of the project SMOKING AREA, which began in 2012. We want to honor the German-born Jewish American political theorist Hannah Arendt by installing a commemorating plaque at the porch of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, upstate New York.

The plaque includes the quote “It is beyond doubt that the capacity to act is the most dangerous of all human abilities and possibilities.”

For Hannah Arendt, action and speech create a space between participants, which can find its location almost any time and anywhere. It is the space of appearance. The space where I appear to others, as others appear to me. By mounting the commemorating plaque we propose that the porch becomes a space of appearance – a space stripped of some layers of legislation, a space for negotiating, engaging, testing and acting.

Later we walk around in New York City’s commercial gallery district, Chelsea. We enter and exit a few different galleries. We visit A.L. Stainers exhibition 30 DAYS OF MO:)RNING at Koenig & Clinton Gallery. Stainer states: “Hi, I’m going to do my best to satisfy the gallery’s needs in the midst of our anthropocentric crapitalist global implosion.” We sit down, listen to Stainer reading from eco phaggy books.

Hot flash! The pang of sadness directs us away from Chelsea, to other spaces, to other gatherings. Other growing places. Greener areas. Rooftop vegetable gardens in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and beyond.

Back home read more of what Stainer read to us; Anna Tsing’s book The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.

Again, we are back in forest life. Latent or on-going hopefulness can be discerned. Glimmer noticed yet again. We never forgot, but during a decade of intensive collaboration and shared life, we never really talked about our childhood forests.

On 21st of April 2018, Malin writes an email:

Dear Åsa, Check this out!
And a link to Public Art Agency Sweden’s call for artists to apply for funding for local art projects.
Maybe something for our continued interweavings:
The “fallow” meets “care” perhaps, somewhere on a remote place in the middle of the periphery of the local?
Hug, Malin

On 23rd of April 2018, Åsa answers:
Exciting! Let’s roam around on Friday’s skype meeting. By the way, I have re-joined The Swedish Artists’ Association, KRO.
Hug, Åsa

We decided to make a call for “commitment, care, and connectedness in the midst of uncertainties”. We write an application. We call our project Forest Calling – A Never-ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge.

Part of the forest, we soon will engage through, was planted during farmer Elisabeth Tamm’s time as owner of Fogelstad. Some of it, in particular as part of the scattered swamps, was already there, evolving for a long time.

Together with pedagogue Honorine Hermelin, workplace inspector Kerstin Hesselgren, physician Ada Nilsson and writer Elin Wägner, Elisabeth Tamm founded the Fogelstad group in 1921. The group came together through the common struggle for peace, democracy and women’s suffrage. They ran the Women Citizen’s School at Fogelstad (between 1925–54) and published the political weekly periodical Tidevarvet (The Epoch). The group was politically engaged but independent of any political party, and strongly committed to ”jordfrågan” (”the earth issue”), that today can be understood as being part of a larger discussion regarding social, economic and ecological resilience.

The forest becomes a monument — an on-going, transformative, performative public artwork. When the forest is understood as a public artwork it is lifted out of its predetermined context and becomes a kind of resistance to the Western teleological concept of time. The forest lives on in a different temporality, where a time axis from the Fogelstad group and their struggle for ”peace with the earth” is allowed to continue instead of being broken through clearcutting.

”Peace with the earth”, refers to a book written by Elisabeth Tamm and Elin Wägner, published in 1940. A quote from the book: “In contrast to today’s ideal: mechanization, specialization, and speed, we are consciously proclaiming the ideals that we believe will be tomorrow’s: Independent activity – versatility – patience”.

How do our actions relate to colonial history? We started to call the 3.7 hectares of forest that we are negotiating around our forest. What does the feeling that this is our forest, our piece of land, do with us, with the forest?

What is our obligation to the forest? Our responsibility? Who should we listen to? Something whispers that it is completely impossible to own “nature”, to own land. Making a profit on the commons, the land, is a loss of our future.

Pay attention to the multitude of communicative registers – sounds, smells, behavior, the flowering trees, the seasons, the coming and going of birds, insects, and other creatures, the howling, and the silence too: all the myriad communication of living beings as they sing up themself and their connectivities.

Here Forest calling provides space for different desires and dependence formations. We imagine a queer continuum, or a continuum of ecosocial desire. Desires in the forest, desires within contaminated collaborations, and among more-than-human life forms, our desire to be part of a larger time-space and to a different future.

Elderly loggers share memories of relationships, collaborations (and coercions) among worlds of the forest, timber horses and human beings. The timber horses had a way with the forest, a deep know-how regarding snow, orientation and other life. During the summers they were set free. They roamed the forests in packs and rested in large circle formations during the nights, heads turned outwards, like rays of the sun. For some months the domesticated horses turned wild.

The horses and loggers worked hard during the winters with hand saws, and were badly paid, by the tree. When the chainsaw was introduced during the 50’s the pay per tree went down, and to make the same wage as earlier the loggers had to fell many more trees. After another few years, the chainsaw also became obsolete and was replaced by larger extremely efficient machines.

For our eyes we see a diagram from the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden visualizing the “Productivity development in the forest, cubic meter per day’s work, 1950-2007”. The curve starts at 2 cubic meter per day’s work and rises at 45 degrees for the following few years, then steepens, going almost straight up to 26 cubic meter in 2007. The speed and scope of this industrial expansion of forest destruction is hard to grasp.
“It is beyond doubt that the capacity to act is the most dangerous of all human abilities and possibilities.”

Most of us learn to ignore the multispecies worlds around us. Projects for rebuilding curiosity are essential work for living with others. We are contaminated by our encounters.

Right now we are curious regarding the vibrant life of spruce bark beetles. Dancing, leaving elaborate patterns, or messages, that nobody can ignore. Do we want to follow them in their dance? Are they our allies in advocating: ”The forest shall be renewed in accordance with mixed forest principles.” stated by the Women’s Organization for World Order in 1937, that so strongly influenced the Fogelstad group.

“Landscapes are not backdrops for historical action: they are themselves active. Watching landscapes in formation shows humans joining other living beings in shaping worlds.”

“Everyone carries a history of contamination; purity is not an option.”

“Entanglement burst categories and upends identities.”

“Almost all development may be co-development. In contrast to earlier focus on life as internally self-organizing systems.”

When we arrive, you will not get a map of Forest Calling – A Never-ending Contaminated Collaboration or Dancing is a Form of Forest Knowledge. Instead we invite you to follow us in carrying out a series of un-certain exercises.

We will guide you mostly in silence. We will move along the triangular border.

Is a map always inextricably intertwined in anthropocentric, colonial practice? Most likely. What about bird perspective? Call humans into creatureliness and connection. Seeing a landscape from above, like a bird?

At lucky moments we half-whisper, half-shout and point to the sky: ”Look, an eagle!” We want to share that we have discovered a bird. But at that moment the bird has already watched us for a long, long time. Not only in the singular encounter between two individuals, also as species.

When Hannah Arendt taught us about the ”space of appearance”, she, or at least we, considered this only in regards to other human beings. But if the forest is the space of appearance, the space where I appear to others, as others appear to me? Where action and speech create a space between participants, which can find its location almost any time and anywhere? The forest watches us already and we look back, meeting the eyes of the forest. Do we dare to keep our gaze steady?

On the other hand, can we even talk about forests separated from us?

Malin Arnell and Åsa Elzén

Bredäng and Näshulta, 8 of September 2020