»The forest lab as successful art experiment – Curatorial observations«
The idea of the forest laboratory has been fulfilled: from the transparent willow circle of the globe to the world of ants, from the constellation of millions of years-old erratic blocks to spheres in lofty heights, the walkway as a path of perception above the forest floor, searching for direction with the compass in the tower, man as letterbox-finder in the forest. The mixture of being directed and being the one searching, the risk of overlooking something, but the joy of discovering something else, something unexpected – all that is part and parcel of the Forest Art Path “Laboratory”.
During the 3rd International Forest Art Path in Darmstadt, the forest became a research facility. It offered the artists a novel artistic lab situation and gave them the opportunity to conduct artisticscientific field research. It was so that the idea of the Laboratory was able to be realized in many different ways and planted many seeds in the forest and in art.
The 8,000 to 10,000 visitors during opening hours and the 57 guided tours with 1400 participants bear witness to the fact that the Forest Art Path 2006 attracted a very wide audience. In the experimental situation with scientists and specialists, the preparatory and relization phase led to 14 very different works. The range of perception in the forest and its strengthening by the trained eye of the specialists has proved itself as a valuable extension. At this point I would like to express my very special thanks to all the scientists and specialists for their support. They came from, e.g., the fields of biology, physics,geology and psychoanalysis as well as architecture, philosophy, journalism and stage design.
The joint efforts of the 15 artists and 14 scientists and specialists developed into a very effective exchange and was the driving force for this year’s Forest Art Laboratory. All the participants were inspired by the opportunity to officially involve a partner with whom to discuss and exchange ideas for the development of their visual work. A whole spectrum of different collaborations, partnerships and mutual support efforts developed. There were no guidelines on the scale or effects of the collaborative work. From the joint planning of a project to telephone contact, anything was possible. Many of these joint experiences are reflected in the catalog, but unfortunately far from all of them are.
The completed artworks are site-specific and, after much preparation and discussion, were created specially for our district
forestry Mühltal am Böllenfalltor in Darmstadt. We invited artists from ten countries to a three-week symposium, in order to be able to give them the opportunity to work with our forest and its environment for a longer period of time and to develop new creative ideas in intercultural exchange. Above all the two »Wednesday Forums« proved themselves an important element of the exchange, for there, the artists were able to present their works and methods of working to colleagues and visitors in an open round.
As curator of such a multi-layered project, at this point I would like to share a few thoughts on my involvement:
Artworks from the forest lab
- In my eyes, the forest becomes one whole picture; it is the stage for the orchestration of the exhibition and undergoes a dramatic development.
- It is here at this place that the artists’ visions are to be made reality.
- The idea is to sense and develop current themes and in so doing, to be a part of contemporary discussion.
- This project is designed to tread new paths in terms of art in public spaces.
- The link between art, nature and science has been a central principle for many years now, which can be seen from countless new and deeper perspectives.
- It is designed to trigger and promote manifold ideas in all those involved as well as visitors.
- Particularly important is the interest of visitors and also public response in the form of the press, e.g., to encourage enthusiasm for the art in the forest with guided tours, to inform people with lectures, to deepen knowledge with the »Wednesday Forums« and to repeatedly create, with art performances, a gathering place in the forest.
- Pedagogical work with children has a high priority, because they will be our future art experts: e.g., informative and childoriented tours for the “Kids meet artists” program, where children get to know the artists and learn about how they work, and tours as part of the Umweltdiplom (environmental diploma) school program. This time, the five days of children’s projects and video workshops were very successful.
Ten of the works have an interactive character and draw the visitor into the artwork. Either visitors can walk on the artworks, such as the 100m-long “Path” made of birch wood by Pravdoliub Ivanov and in the “Anthill or Gulliver’s Travels to Brobdingnag – the Land of the Giants”, an over-sized anthill by Waltraud Munz which visitors can actually enter, or hovering spheres that invite you to sit and swing, like the “Forest Cell Sph(air)es” by Ernest Daetwyler. Likewise, the work “Remember – Repeat – Work through”, which is rather like an ancient theater, by Jems Koko Bi in collaboration with Wolfgang Hekele, tempts us to stay and reflect. In the piece “Point de Vue” by Joachim Kuhlmann, a 600m-long track became a meditative path leading to a geological treasure trove with powerful erratic blocks. This often lead to dramatic moments and orchestrations, the forest became a stage, which Kuhlmann and Koko Bi in particular took literally.
With her “Fence”, Manuela Ribadaneira cordoned off a part of the forest, but nonetheless ensured that it was still visible – this, too, was a poetic adaptation. For the “tree cinema” by Dorothee Bielfeld, which invites you to observe the treetops and which was developed according to forest pedagogical principles, and likewise for Alec Finlay’s “letterboxes” which are distributed all over the world, the observer has to actively involve himself and seek out the five places where the letterboxes are. Of 100 “worldwide letterboxes”, those with numbers 45 to 49 are now hanging in Darmstadt.
With an installation consisting of 1,000 over-sized red ants, Jennifer Angus addressed the theme of insects, as did Waltraud Munz – both worked with very different proportional relationships. In the “Blue Globe of the Forest” by Edgardo Madanes, a natural material, like the willow from the Argentine Tigre delta, became a formal element and let the blue sky shine through. The performative situations by Lisa Kaftori “Voices, Echoes and Reflections” in the Ludwigshöhturm, which contains a sound installation with a text by Peter Handke, and Helina Hukkataival’s “Forest dream”, with listening stations under seven mosquito nets, are important elements in bringing the forest to life.
The piece “Natura morta” by Alba D’Urbano and Jörg Brombacher caused some protest, because it is about six seemingly criminal cases in the forest. People walking in the forest even called the police. Making a theme of fear in the forest seems to have broken a taboo and should be exploited as an opportunity to discuss it.
The 250 Oklahoma Rock Rose signs by Sallie McCorkle were distributed in the forest at the weekends and brought back to the information stand by visitors. 250 questionnaires were also completed, and a much larger amount of original Rock Rose was handed out. Public participation across all age groups was very high.
Forest art has great plans
The next Forest Art Path in 2008 will again have a theme from art and science. Before that, the “Verein für Internationale Waldkunst” has been invited to collaborate in a project with the University of Wisconsin in Madison, USA. There, in April 2007, will be a conference on the theme of “Native – Invasive”, which is to form the academic foundation for a Forest Art Path of the same name in May/June in Wisconsin. The conference, which combines art, nature and curatorial practice, will address the forest and the sustainability and involvement of art in the natural environment. As curator, I will be responsible for both projects.
We are planning to further expand the international exchange and, as in 2006, to again invite visiting artists such as Sallie McCorkle (USA) and Helina Hukkataival (Finland), who were supported by their institutions or countries in conducting their own artistic field research in the forest.
It would give us great pleasure if all our sponsors, the press, visitors and above all the artists continued to support us and carry on the idea of the Forest Art Path. We would like to thank all those who have helped and the large community of supporters of Forest Art – without whom this art project would not be possible – for the forest lab is also a field of experimentation for social contacts and a way to meet people.
Ute Ritschel, curator