From a tree to a landscape

From a tree to a landscape

Walk Notations I, © Inês Dantas (courtesy of the artist).

The following essay was written for the opening of the exhibition “Emospheric Landscapes”, by Inês Dantas (wuda*), at the Edge Arts - Contemporary Art Gallery, on the 28th of November, 2013.


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Parkland Walk

From a tree to the emospheric landscape, from a singular body to the dance of the bodies: about the “Emospheric Landscapes” of Inês Dantas / *wuda

First part: A tree, singular body

In the beginning, there was a tree.

It was magnificent. High, it touched the sky and embraced the land. The trunk was wide, with dark veins and the first branches grew close to the ground, but quickly took over the sky and drew dizzying lines overhead. The empty space, the pure air, seemed to always move through its naked branches, even without wind. One day, Gordon decided to inhabit it, even for a moment, and created, not a house, which would certainly be too perennial - and he wouldn’t want to contradict the proper future of the tree, of growing endlessly, continually adding to the time small spaces shaped by its branches, increasing energy that flows from the earth to the sky, as in his drawings of trees - but a structure made with ropes, ladders and nets, which several dancers could easily embrace, the trunk, the branches, through the voids, only a feet away from the arms to the hands, to move the air and create swings to the wind or spaces, small pouches just to lay down. (Even when he used to draw a house in a tree, it was made of oscillating movements, lifting platforms, an intercalary movement through the unique rhythm created by the trunk, the branches, the foliage.) The movements would be slow, paused, in constant play with light and space and with the space between the light, passing through the branches and between branches and the air, the moving air, and between different bodies, between each of the dancers.

Inevitably, there was a secret desire of suspension. There, on top of the tree’s branches, the bodies felt the vertigo of space, of the possible fall, but also of the loss of gravity - this is always that the last desire of a dancer, to obtain the lightness of a suspended body in the air, with all the grace of its parts, moving solely on itself in a space without objective coordinates and no force to hold it to the ground. The dancer creates a unique space between his body and the objective space around it, a space that is simultaneously the space preceding the movement and where the movement rushes before being yet another. Suspended on the tree, that space acquires an ephemeral form of imprecise, flowing contours, defined by the dancer's body, the branches where it hangs and the mass of air, and in those moments, the body inhabits the interval between itself and the tree: an interval made of light and movement. And another interval, another space with another form, another expression of light and movement, in every gesture, every new posture of the body.

There was a suspended hammock tied to two trees in Whitfield Gardens which Inês had designed. A scanned image from a 3D scanner, a technology that generates a point cloud, each point marked by the coordinates x, y, z, represents a landscape which reminds one of the bodies on their multiple movements and postures on the Vassar tree during that day. Like the space between the body of the dancer and the space of the branches, that unique space generated ephemerally by the appropriation of the body and the structure of ropes and nets allow it (the body) to inhabit the space. The difference would also exist between the simple play of children who are climbing trees for fun and enjoyment, and the creation of an inhabited space, a play with a space, created by a structure or a certain composition of artificial elements, allowing them to inhabit the empty space between the branches in different ways., There is an interval between the tree or trees (the natural landscape) and the built elements of a city (artificial landscape), that the scanned image of the landscape reveals by the successive and alternating densification or rarefaction of its points. The scanned image, unlike the photographic image (which could also exist of this same place), reveals the successive intervals between the different elements that compose the landscape. It is as if they correspond to those empty spaces between the branches of the trees, made tangible in the image, revealing lines of composition, appropriation zones that would never be possible if we looked at such a photograph of the same place, where the masses obscure the view and the volumes speak of another spacial play.

In the trees of Whitfield Gardens, the hammock was designed and created from the scanned image especially to occupy what the point cloud and its lines drew in the air as an unique encounter between two trees. The public space contains infinite places such as this, places of encounter of points and virtual lines (and yet actuals) which only the 3D scanner allows to discover and register into a bidimensional surface (the digitalized image) and, thus, to create a living space which speaks to the passing bodies about a possibility to occupy that empty interstitial space: to look at the trees and maybe sharing a story. Two performers swung in the huge suspended hammock embracing the two trees, with parts of its fabricated cloth sprawled along the trunk, the floor, the square, for Tottenham Road. The suspended hammock extends, not only visually (because the lines of its composition arise from the point cloud and of the intervallic lines generated by this) the public space, as transforms it into a true meeting place, a space for approximation between bodies, a space play in a rediscovered city which until that moment had remained invisible.

At another place in the city of London, another tree would create another type of meeting by the studio *wuda. The 2012 Olympic Games were taking place and there was the necessity to create a space where the Portuguese community could meet. The canopy and the branches of an existing tree virtually drew a space which welcomed the people of the community, allowing moments of meeting and reunion, while simultaneously being made known to the public space in and around the city that welcomed them, also welcoming those who would walk by. The gesture, which often remains hidden in the tree structures of the cities, of the infinite capacity of these in creating multiple spaces (and not only for meeting and playing), was made visible by a very simple structure: a Z was designed from a movement parallel to the ground, in order to create a horizontal platform, which would serve as a floor, and then up the trunk, while bent and describing a circular and a upward movement, allowing to create a ceiling (parallel to the floor). The succession of Zs, rotated around the tree trunk, creating simultaneously through their movement, a floor and a ceiling, a place of shelter and a place open to the city. This also remembered ancient symbols of a Portuguese architecture and yet open the world, such as the hulls of ships departed for the discovery of other communities or the arched beams of a dome, which was one day the expression of that will.

Second part: Up and down the trees through Parkland Walk, the dance of the bodies

“Cosimo was up on the on the holm oak. The branches spread out, high bridges over the earth. A slight breeye blew; the sun shone. It shone among the leaves so that we had to shade our eyes with our hands to see Cosimo. From the tree Cosimo looked at the world; everything, seen from up there, was different, which was fun in itself”.

In the fictional realm of Ombrosa, there was the son of a Baron: Cosimo. Cosimo, as an act of resistance to parental authority, decided to go and live in the canopies of the trees where he created an arboreal kingdom, free from the conventions of the ground, where he could do what he liked most: reading, talking about philosophy and politics, writing (he would become even better known than Voltaire), but also climbing, walking and rambling through the canopies of the trees, knowing them as no one else. There were trees where he could sleep, recline and rest, read or write, because the branches were more comfortable and their structures simple and softer. Or others like the olives, “because of their tortuous shapes, were comfortable and easy routes for Cosimo”. Or “the fig tree, seemed to absorb him, impregnate him with its gummy texture and the buzz of hornets".

In an ancient and disused railway, there is a more or less arbitrary linear park, where various shrubs, vegetation and trees were growing, some planted, others spontaneously: Parkland Walk. The park crosses a vast extension in the North of London and, by walking along it, one finds very different urban situations due to the complex network that it weaves between footpaths, roads, bridges and viaducts, and the built-up areas (mainly residential) surrounding it.The urban situation of Parkland Walk makes it, per se, an enchanted, magical and, above all, an extremely speculative place.

Some people compare its situation to the High Line in New York, where, however, it were Joel’s photographs which made visible an enchanted world above ground, which remained, until that date , inaccessible to most New Yorkers. Joel used to say that he felt a little like Alice in Wonderland whenever he climbed the High Line to photograph it. And it was a somewhat long process, from the use of the photographs to reveal a singular reality, to identifying species which only exist there, to a public competition for the creation of a park, and the construction of the project which had won that competition, that has finally created what is there today: an immense urban park, one that has changed the perception and the experience of many areas of the city it goes through ( including the price and the status of some of those areas). The High Line has become, in the end, an image or a trademark, which neither the choice and the selection of the delicate vegetation (flowers, shrubs, plants) according to the different seasons, neither the climate of New York, neither the different colors of the façades around the High Line, neither the different functions which it assumes throughout its length (still trying to remember Joel’s photos of a magical place) can superinduce. Parkland Walk retains, however, a latent state of continuous transformation whose passage of time is constantly determining its shape and its relationship with the city of London. It is like a thin tissue composed of a very fine lacework that is growing and drawing very different ways of appropriation of the various grids that it brings to it, in order to redesign and complete its heterogeneity in its linear form. If one looks at it from the perspective Google Earth, the structure, though linear in its dense drawing of the trees, reveals, however, other dimensions until now unknown and hidden.

Inês has decided to register various urban situations of the Park (the scanned situations show distinct degrees of interaction between the natural elements - trees, vegetation, shrubs - and the built elements - the line of the disused railway, roads, bridges, viaducts, buildings) using the same technique used in Whitfield Gardens, a 3D scanner, composing an immense digital urban forest, created by point clouds which, depending on the different relationships established between them, allow to extract patterns of drawing sufficiently speculative for the development of a subsequent process of abstract design. However, the images acquire another expression. In these unusual and unexplored places arise possible worlds from an unknown reality, new processes of appropriation of the landscape and the city... The images reveal the different relationships that the organic compositions have with the built structures, but it is in the empty spaces between the large point clouds, in the spaces between things, as the voids between the branches of the Vassar tree or the vastness of Cosimo’s world seen above the trees, that a new space and a new relationship between these two distinct elements or between the different bodies of the landscape may arise. The images allow a unique flourishing, a hypothesis, a potential that the representation must bring with itself and allow to emerge to the surface not only of the image but also of the appropriation of the landscape by the bodies. Perhaps it is an unconscious of the landscape that the point clouds reveal themselves, somewhere in the oscillation between concentration, densification and rarefaction, as it apprehends hidden movements in the landscape which are revealed when the three- dimensional model becomes a flat image. These movements are similar to those of a choreography, movements which explain and draw in the air - because they are usually arboreal movements, captured in a time that does not exist - a dance that involves and embraces the different bodies that integrate and design the landscape. Maybe because they also remember Trisha’s diagrams of her choreographies where there is not any representation of the body or of its position, even though when looking at these, they are always drawings of body postures, movements of suspension and lightness, tilting gestures, of non-gravitational forces... From the confusion of the traits arises the unique clarity that the empty space may only be occupied by the body movement and paradoxically as a figure suspended in time and space.

There is a footpath in Stapleton Hall Road [Inês Dantas: Urban Forest Path, 2013], where the trees grow and filter the landscape, turning it into a beautiful tracery, a bio-organic tissue that covers the buildings and the streets [Inês Dantas: Walk Notations I, 2012] and slowly begins to take flight and drawing another pathway in the air [Inês Dantas: Urban Forest I, 2012], an airy path where the memory of Cosimo dwells in the trees canopies [Inês Dantas: Sub-Canopy in October, 2012], an arboreal kingdom opposite to the ground kingdom of roads and streets, where new interstitial spaces are born, where the natural and artificial elements draw permeable boundaries and establish distinct spatial relationships [Inês Dantas: Crossroad Notations I, 2013], displacing the air, raising the center of gravity to create a suspended space not only between the branches of trees and vegetation, as between trees and buildings, trees and streets and roads [Inês Dantas: Supra Canopy I, 2013]. They are not usually inhabited places, they are empty and unexplored spaces, as most of the times the trees’ canopies keep them secretly hidden, not allowing us to see beyond what is there, far above the trees, but especially in the interval spaces. What can these spaces be? How may we inhabit them? How does one appropriate a whole new world made known by these images?

In Crouch End Hill, the path follows the road beneath the platforms of the old Crouch End station. It is an underground and secret looking path [Inês Dantas: Expanded Ground in November, 2013], which entices revolutionary meetings, where the image of the kids in Marcel’s Terrain Vague appears in the imaginary as postmodern figures of a bio-organic revolution, reclaiming to the city a life in the urban forest [Inês Dantas: Trees on Tracks, 2013]. A new urban type resulting from the intersection of nature with the constructed, inhabitant of the voids created by the overlap of these elements and corresponding to the innermost desires of experience of a living urban fabric, with the belief that trees have a role in the future of the city, in the infinite spaces that these create and in the wider adventures they lead, in those open new visions about the city itself, in the urban fabric itself, which becomes thinner, more permeable to multiple interpretations and digressions: psychogeographies of a contemporary living and organic urban fabric.

The trees become, in the scanned images, the object of desire of space, because they do not consist only of a trunk, branches and leaves, but reveal, show and make visible numberless possibilities to create infinite spaces, spaces where gravity seems absent and lightness and suspension are the only possible forces. The center of gravity moves. An ethereal landscape emerges. The body lifts off the ground, and has the desire to flow through the unique movement generated from the point clouds, and secretly wishes to keep those areas free from a more perennial design, which obscures them, and may alter its nature, when they reveal by themselves an organic-vegetable-built matter, infinitely plastic, which allows the creation, within the existent space, of a temporary place, where multiple bodies intersect, as in a subtle dance of the landscape...

As this unique movement, generated by the point clouds, whose perception is only possible by the representation generated by the 3D scanner, time appears compressed, like in a crystal, it is a time without measure, an eternal time. To generate the image, multiple scans are required, placing the scanner in different positions in order to obtain the total volume of the objects and, over time, over the seasons, the trees change their own postures, the leaves fall and new patterns appear in the overlap with the built elements, or the leaves are born and the space alters, revealing other unknowns, always different forms. Thus the images are also intervals of time and not only of space, compression of interstitial spaces and of discontinuous times, a time that speaks of a future where the trees in the city may be occupied in the interstitial spaces that are born of the intervals between them and the buildings, hidden spaces where a complex system of relationships is created, such as those Cosimo was creating in his arboreal kingdom: leisure spaces and living spaces, places to rest or watch the action, the movement of the city, loving spaces. They are emospheric landscapes, where emotions create successive interpretations of the landscape and draw unintended movements and temporary occupations of space as in I-Lands...

I-Lands is an artificially created site by the action and subjective experience of temporary visitors, which activate the heating system of the wax containers suspended over a tank filled with water. The wax melts and falls, drop by drop, solidifies again in contact with the water, creating successive artificial islands, each time bigger and deformed, forming, through the movement of water agitated by the drops when falling from different points, several archipelagos. The design and the topography of the landscape depends solely of the interaction of the visitor (or spectator) with the mechanism that allows the construction of the different islands forms, which are however determined by an unpredictable and inform matter in a sense that the resulting patterns will always be different depending on the action of the different visitors (on their will to interact and on their experiments with the mechanism) and of the proper time of formation of the islands. 

Returning to the Parkland Walk, one last image relights the desire [Inês Dantas: Micro Galaxy I, 2012]. An impossible view (by its simultaneous projections resulting from the succession of positions and from the compressed time between scans) of superimposed urban layers - the upper street, the lower tunnel, the platforms of the former Crouch End station, the forest that lines the pathways - creates a complex intersection of different urban systems, where anything can happen... The Emospheric Landscapes create, above all, a space for speculation.

Susana Ventura, Lisbon 2013.

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