The Generosity of Forests, 2020

This work emerges from Simard’s discovery that trees share nutrients to support the health of all members in a forest grove. The vector for this sharing is the mycorrhizal network of fungal organisms that densely populate the forest floor and invade or surround the roots of trees. Simard’s findings illuminate the mutual support underlying forest ecosystem relationships, in contrast with the individualistic, competitive attitudes driving resource extraction practices in the past two and a half centuries. The protective role of forests extends to the entire planet, since forestation offers a benign strategy to mitigate the impact of the socioeconomic narrative of industrial capitalism on the Earth’s climate.


The core element in this work is light moving from the forest canopy down tree trunks to roots and across the forest floor to evoke the transit of photosynthetic products shared between trees. Programmable LED strings allow expression of these pathways of generosity, and complex knitted layers covering the tree structures suggest bark textures while permitting a view of the course of light. A fungal pattern stitched onto a felted wool forest floor indicates the mycorrhizal network and also allows glimpses of light travelling between trees.


Craft techniques of knitting, felting and embroidery offer the most effective materials for this installation, while challenging art/craft distinctions. ‘Craftivism’ is the term coined by Betsy Greer to describe such use of “domestic craft” techniques for social and environmental activism. Networks like the Knitting Nanas Against Gas affirm that this is a softer, less strident activism that focuses on working collaboratively to create an open space for discussion with observers at protest or exhibition sites.


The marrying of handicraft techniques and electronic technology in a contemporary artwork also challenges divisions between technology and both art and craft. Craft techniques have been slipping through the permeable, illusory boundary between art, made for contemplation. and craft, created for functional use or decoration foe as long as the distinction has existed. Similarly, new technologies regularly invade the privileged locus where commodification has sought to fence off fine art.


A final thread concerns the ecological footprint of artwork, including issues of toxicity in production, use and disposal of art materials as well as concerns about consumption and waste. The wool batts used here were sourced in Alberta, and this is a sustainable material. The yarn and textiles were sourced in thrift shops, a form of sharing for mutual benefit that faintly echoes the generosity of sharing among trees. On the other hand, the electronic components for the work are not available as used items; unfortunately, these also involve considerable toxicity in their globally sourced materials and a significant ecological footprint in their sourcing, manufacture and shipping halfway around the planet. So art continues to be a balancing act that seeks the most effective and ethical means to communicate a vision.