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Destressed Tree by Polonca Lovšin

Site specific installation curated by Maja and Reuben Fowkes for the NASUTI Festival
Bratislava, September / October 2018

Lovšin’s project for NASUTI emphasises the fact that debris as an outcome of human undertakings does not only affect people, but equally other species with which we are intricately linked through a web of mutual dependencies. The hopeful messages exchanged with a rescued tree stand as a reminder that in a time of crisis cooperation is essential.

Benevolence Exchange: On the De-Stressed Tree by Polonca Lovšin
Maja and Reuben Fowkes

More stationary than many species cohabiting this planet, plants experience environmental pressures acutely and are highly exposed to changes in their surroundings from which they are unable to flee. Trees react in situ to biological stress caused by factors such as drought or heat that upset the initial homeostatic state, responding through long-term processes of adaptation, acclimatization and phenotypic plasticity. The individual tree at the centre of Lovšin’s project is not only at the mercy of the slow violence of human-induced climate change but is also vulnerable to high levels of stress caused by anthropogenic interference in its immediate environment with the arrival of a children’s playground in its vicinity. In light of the immensity of human impact on the natural world with the accelerated rate of species extinction and unprecedented level of destruction of habitats, it is increasingly clear that inaction and indifference are no longer a viable option for us now. This is also the motivation behind the artist’s intervention to take a stand in defence of the tree and aid its recovery from human-caused stress.

The longevity of arboreal lifespans places them on a different scale to human life and they stand as vertiginous witnesses to intertwined natural and social histories. In that sense, the tree in the park of Nová Cvernovka was a bystander to the history of the building as an educational institution that produced generations of students destined to work in the chemical industry as part of the late modernist transformation from a natural into a synthetic environment. Responding to sudden alternations in the tree’s circumstances as a consequence of the changed purpose of the building that now serves as host to an alternative art centre and an outpost for creative endeavours, Lovšin intends to ensure that the tree does not only have a past but also a sustainable future. In keeping with the ethos of Nová Cvernovka and responding to the particular context of the NASUTI Festival, literally meaning on the debris, the Slovenian artist has used materials salvaged from the renovation process to build a protective cordon around the tree. The wooden structure is designed to allow precipitation to reach the ground and seep through to the roots, while also maintaining a zone of respite for the tree and granting it space to breath and thrive. A lectern constructed on top of the hexagonal ring faces not out to the human audience but inwards to the tree, indicative of the expansion of the cosmopolitical sphere to encompass beyond-human entities. A piece of plastic tubing found in the playground served as a starting point for a circulatory system for channelling affirmative intra-species messages about the future. Approaching the issue of reuse from another direction, the materials for this network of communicatory arteries are intended to be repurposed in the continuing renovation of the building after the end of the festival.

The beneficial effects of singing or talking to plants have long been apparent to horticulturalists, regardless of whether they follow traditional or new age paths. In the De-Stressed Tree, the network of tubes ensures that carbon dioxide emitted from human lungs through vocal articulations reaches the furthest branches of the tree as an aid to the life-giving process of photosynthesis. The selection of readings that focus on positive prospects for the future give however an additional dimension to the benevolent human-plant exchange. This could be perceived as an acknowledgement of plant consciousness, now increasingly confirmed by neurobiologists and theorists of vegetal life, as well as considered as a gesture of appreciation, care and solidarity towards the tree. Establishing channels for communication is amongst the primary concerns of the artistic practice of Lovšin, who has previously designed tools for pollination as a response to the interrupted mediation between insects and plants and created temporary collaborative platforms to give a voice to marginalised social communities. Lovšin’s project for NASUTI emphasises the fact that debris as an outcome of human undertakings does not only affect people, but equally other species with which we are intricately linked through a web of mutual dependencies. The hopeful messages exchanged with a rescued tree stand as a reminder that in a time of crisis cooperation is essential.