Contemporary Design

On the Presence and Absence of the Forest When You’re Standing on the Brink of Extinction.

by Juan Carlos Guevara Verjel
a pot from which a branch comes out
Screen capture from Video 1

There is too much time, there is too little time. But do the trees know this? The forest has no temporality, it is home without a place; the roots underneath the ground form a primitive supersonic highway that stretches throughout the centuries.

It turns out I lived near the forest my entire life but never managed to feel particularly close to it. I think it always existed inside a screen for me, in the background of a foreign movie or the videogames I played in my childhood. And yet, it was soothing when I walked in the forest and realized that everything around me was alive; recognizing that it had always been there almost made me want to cry. This feeling soon faded away into a memory when I was no longer in it and then calm became longing.

I could pick up branches and leaves and put them into my pockets but they dry and crumble so easily. The dirt in my shoes will need to be washed away soon too and then I will be left with no trace of that time. So, how can I condense my experience in the forest and carry it with me even when I am no longer physically present there? The idea of the Proustian moment came to my mind, reflecting on how similar the forest as a whole can be to the madeleine, bringing forth memories that could, just maybe, stretch to before I was born.

But how does it relate to me? How does this very sudden realization of how I feel in the forest fit in with my new life in a country where (seemingly) everyone has such long-held emotional connections to it? It’s always about time, isn’t it? And my time here up until now has consisted of trying to appease ambiguity through objects that feel like home when they are together; sometimes a bed, sometimes a teapot, pieces that furnish my own little forest where I can hopefully get lost in one day.

And with that, I thought about how film mediates, how it is above all, a tool for communication. Film presents us with the means to talk to the past, the present and future all at once; to piece many times together and bridge presence and absence. The forest that once was but now is gone can suddenly reappear and remain there for all eternity. Jean Epstein once said that film “accomplishes for us the most extraordinary journey and the most difficult step that (hu)man(s) can attempt: an escape from our own human-centrism”. Film’s medium is time and I am now sure that the forest knows that there is not a lot of it left for us.

This project looked primarily at two exhibitions that took place recently in London for reference and inspiration: Among the Trees at the Hayward Gallery (Curated by Ralph Rugoff) and Cambio by Studio Formafantasma at the Serpentine Gallery (Curated by Rebecca Lewin), particularly at the work presented by Eija Liisa Ahtila, Giuseppe Penone and the illustrations by Hirō Isono for the Secret of Mana series.

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