Evgenia Emets – Eternal Forest
Over the last few months, the new coronavirus has dominated our lives. In confinement, people often turned to both nature and art for comfort and distraction, storming the parks, forests, green spaces and streaming the numerous cultural programs. Evgenia Emets is a Russian artist now living in Portugal to whom all of this is very natural. Long before corona, her latest project Eternal Forest, launched in May 2018 in Portugal, is an attempt to reconnect people and forests and art. And because this is of such current importance, I am very happy she has taken the time to tell us about her work.
Amélie Eise – Evgenia, just out of curiosity, do you have a favourite tree?
Evgenia Emets – I stopped looking at trees and I see forests. At the moment I am exploring oaks surrounding me in Portugal, as well as Eucalyptus. When I moved to
Portugal, I became aware of the dangers of monoculture plantations. I am trying to understand how, as an artist, I can shift the perception we have of trees and forests.
AE – Please tell us, what you are hoping to achieve with the Eternal Forest?
EE – The Eternal Forest art project was born as a response to globally pervasive deforestation, loss of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems by asking the question: ‘how can we create spaces for a deep connection with nature through art and ecology?’ Today, old-growth forests are few; many people have never experienced the awe of being in the presence of a 1.000-year-old being. Eternal Forest is the vision to make this experience possible for those who come after us, a gift of an old-growth biodiverse forest to future generations.
AE – How is it different from a “regular” environmental project or a visit to a nature reserve?
EE – It is an art project which combines art, nature conservation, and community working together. The design and creation of Eternal Forest is an on-going collaborative work between artists, scientists, forest experts, ecosystem restoration and reforestation experts.
AE – An important element in your work seems to be the notion and experiencing of time. Is your work an attempt to invite the audience to think in longer, larger processes, across generations?
EE – Yes, the perception of time is of primary concern in my art. In previous projects I attempted to shift the point of view we have when we are thinking of time, in Eternal Forest it is quite concrete – the point is 1.000 years and also it is an ‘eternal’ forest – so it points directly at the timeline which is beyond many human generations. It is calling us to imagine something beyond ourselves…By over-structuring our time, we lost the magical time, we lost the dream time, the in-between time, and as a result, we lost the faculty of understanding more subtle forms of time and the cycles of nature, we separated ourselves from the flow, interrupted it. Personal and participatory art practices can help to re-enter and re-live that ‘flow state’, planting and watching trees grow and creating space which changes continuously and which we will never be able to see in all its potential, we can only imagine.
AE – The recently deceased artist Naziha Mestaoui received worldwide attention with her project One Heart One Tree, projecting an individual tree growing at a persons heart rate onto the Parisian Eiffel Tower. Can we “connect” to the next, future generations by using even more modern technology or are we “disconnecting” them from the “real thing”? Is your project Eternal Forest aiming at a “physical” experience rather than a purely “digital” one?
EE – In past projects, I have used audio-visual and other technologies, especially for performances. With Eternal Forest Sanctuary I want to offer a more direct experience and participation. In Eternal Forest, there are various strands of communication. One is poetic and it reaches people through a metaphoric expression, language and sound. The Eternal Forest Manifesto is a poetry piece I read out loud during every visit to the Eternal Forest. Another one is visual – it is to appreciate the patterns in nature, the experience for the eyes, and through art. Then, there is experiential, when I take people to the forest – in complete silence – and take them through the stages of experience to connect with the place in the way they might have never done before.
Then, of course, the project has a wider scale communication. Technology can help to set up a living breathing network, possibly turning Eternal Forest into a world-wide movement. Also, I have ideas on how we can bring this vision to the far corners of the world and then collect messages from people, testimonies of their forests, and reconnect it in a film.
AE – In my former interview for Umbigo with the author of the TreeToo Manifesto, Etienne Verbist, he aims “to offer a platform where artists and artworks of all times relating to trees, in all the different mediums of expression can be exhibited to achieve our common goal.” How can you reach out to other artists in- and outside Portugal, to replicate Eternal Forest?
EE – At the moment there is no formal way of collaborating. I am working on a model, a recipe for creating a forest sanctuary and protecting it for 1.000 years which can then be shared, copied, repeated and improved. Artists I would like to invite to participate in this project are artists who are already working a lot in this direction, such as Ackroyd and Harvey – I’m fascinated by their project Beuys’ Acorns, in which they collected and planted acorns from the oaks planted by Beuys, Katie Holten and her work Tree Alphabet, Tim Knowles and his work when he gives agency to trees to create drawings with the branches and pens, Ines Amado-Harris, who has done a lot of participatory and collaborative work with her project Bread Matters, Lauren Berkowitz, an Australian installation artist, who works with the passage of time, Alan Tod, whose art is focused on forest and who claims ‘forest is art’. At the moment I am only starting a conversation with artists how we can collaborate within this project.
AE – Is crowdsourcing a useful element of propagation?
EE – I think crowdsourcing is crucial in this project on so many levels – at the start, but also to keep going, to continue this initiative, to pass this vision on from one generation to the next. I believe that people themselves will be able to sustain this culture and vision once they are aligned with it and once they create something which they care about. For me, there are two big questions: how to use crowdsourcing to spread the message and the vision (ultimately I would love this to become a people’s project) and how to build long-term community spirit, engagement and involvement.
AE – One of the many things that has changed in these past weeks is not only the role and perception of Art but also the forms in which art can be observed and visited: museums have had to find new ways to reach their audience. Could Eternal Forest be seen as Museums of nature of some sort?
EE – With the coronavirus, a lot of museums are questioning how to start evolving towards something more “living”, less graphic. I would like to think of Eternal Forest as a living museum! Museums are a symbol of continuity, they are also a little bit untouchable and that is what Eternal Forest should be. With the ecosystem and climate-changing so much, we might need the Eternal Forest Sanctuaries to keep safe a multitude of grains and plants and memories. In that sense, Eternal Forest is a living museum that is being re-wilded by nature itself.
AE – In modern western society, we seem to be very result-driven. Eternal Forest supposes a long breath, literally. Trees take a very long time to grow. What will it take for us and the ones after us to reconnect to nature and how can art mediate, especially after the corona “wake-up call”?
EE – Hmm, this is such a great question. I think this is a bigger question about the way our society is set up, how people are expected to be productive and it will take us some breakdowns in our society and a few crisis situations to reconnect with nature on deeper levels. Many people report already they feel such acute need to be in nature because they feel more connected, they feel at peace…
Art can bring to the light in a direct or metaphoric way what we have been disconnected from, it is there to talk about what is missing, what is not, and create a vision for what is yet to come.I think the role of art will change, not overnight, but gradually, I am seeing it is capable of making a shift towards being in service of the common good, including the wellbeing of the planet and other, non-human beings. And I think right now we have a beautiful chance to contribute.