A Tree for the Forest

A Tree for the Forest is an experimental, collaborative art project focused on the role of trees in the world’s climate crisis. In recent years, we have worked extensively on the subject of climate change. Our new work balances fear and hope, centering both on how trees suffer from changing temperatures and how they can help us overcome the crisis. To date, it includes images created in the United States, Cyprus, and the Czech Republic.  

The Rampant Spread of Wildfires

Almost everyone now realizes the extent to which wildfires are proliferating around the globe. In response to extremely hot weather and drought, many parts of the world are experiencing the worst wildfires in their history. Each year since 2015, the United States has experienced approximately 100 more large wildfires than the year before. Cyprus, one of the countries most affected by the climate crisis, is experiencing heat waves, drought, loss of crops, and even the creation of deserts. In the Czech Republic, the number of wildfires grew by 70 percent over a period of 24 years. Around the world, the fire season is longer, more land is burned, and fires are more destructive than before. Of course, each wildfire releases more carbon dioxide, worsening climate change. 

To call attention to this crisis, Gabriela develops a full roll of medium format film as one continuous landscape of a forest damaged by fire. Many of her images were captured at the scenes of recent wildfires. She then selectively burns the negatives to further emphasize the impact of fires on our precious trees. They are then scanned and printed as large-scale panoramas that demand our attention, and importantly, our action.

The Scientific Discovery that Trees Communicate 

At the same time, we call attention to the recent scientific discovery that trees communicate with each other through a “wood wide web” of underground fungal networks. The work of research scientist Suzanne Simard makes clear that trees use these networks to send alarms about danger and to share carbon, water and other nutrients. “Mother trees” also act as central hubs to support younger, smaller trees in their vicinity. These discoveries emphasize the importance of preserving forest health by avoiding clear cutting and maintaining the diversity of wooded areas. If we improve the health of our forests, we will remove carbon from the atmosphere and help alleviate the climate emergency.

Responding to this discovery, Mark makes panoramic photographs of the tree canopy while walking underneath. Since the root networks of trees reach about the same distance from the trunk as the crown, these images strongly suggest the manner in which roots and fungal networks are mingling and communicating. The camera is prone to making “mistakes” as it strives to knit the treetops together. But the accidents it records express the truth better than a more “accurate” representation. The trees reach out to each other, vibrate with energy, sing, dance and cavort. 

The title of the exhibition emphasizes the fact that every individual has the ability to fight climate change. We can stand tall, like a mother tree, connected to those around us, providing essential support for healthy forests and a healthy planet. 

Video: Mother Trees

An accompanying video titled “Mother Trees” also calls attention to the complex web of communication between trees. It includes images of trees captured in the Czech Republic and Cyprus, along with pictures of mycorrhizal fungi. It also features original music created by playing a smartphone app in the shapes of the trees that are depicted in the video. And it includes found sounds of human communication, including several from The Conet Project.

Exhibition in Pafos, Cyprus

In December 2021, following a six-week artist residency at Kimonos Arts Center in Pafos, Cyprus, we were honored to share our work in an exhibition titled A Tree for the Forest at the Municipal Art Gallery at Ibrahim's Khan. The following is documentation of the exhibition, which included very large-scale prints, as much as 4.5 meters (or 15 feet) wide, a three-channel video installation, and found objects (including charred olives, almonds, pomegranates, and tree sap) collected at the site of nearby wildfires. We continue to be extremely grateful to Kimonos Arts Center, and especially co-founder Yiannis Sakellis, for all of their outstanding support during the residency and with the creation of the exhibition. 

Using Format