Seeding our Eco-Future

by Gabriela Bulisova & Mark Isaac

There’s never enough time. 

We showed up for our six-week residency in Pafos, Cyprus with only a month to go before the final show had to be hung. Everything was a race for time: capturing new images and video, editing and post-production, printing, and installing. 

As readers of this blog well know, we focused on trees and their role in the climate crisis – how they are harmed by rising temperatures and how they help limit the effects of warming. We visited the sites of tragic local wildfires this year – including the worst in Cypriot history. And we also focused on the new scientific research that makes clear that trees are communicating extensively in a “wood wide web” facilitated by complex networks of underground fungus.

With the strong and very capable support of Kimonos Art Center, and especially co-founder Yiannis Sakellis, we managed to meet our deadlines, and with this blog post, we’re sharing documentation of the exhibition, which was on view at the Municipal Gallery at Ibrahim’s Khan in December. It included very large scale prints (as much as 4.5 meters, or 15 feet wide), a three-channel video installation with original music, and found objects. You can see the installation photos here, on the Kimonos Art Center website.

We raced from tree to tree, trying to make sure we could get it all done, but sometimes at the expense of enjoying the very natural environment that our project focuses on. In fact, we could have learned a lot from slowing down and listening to the trees we were photographing.

They’re not in it for the short term. In Cyprus, a protected terebinth tree in the Limassol District has been alive for about 1500 years. Some olive trees in Europe are as much as 3000 years old. And one Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, a native of the Southwestern United States, has been alive for almost 5000 years. We’ve all heard the Native American adage about thinking ahead for seven generations. But what if you need to think ahead for 250 generations?

Scientist Suzanne Simard, who was summarily excommunicated from the scientific world for her seemingly outrageous claim that trees talk to each other underground, has now been rehabilitated and even canonized as her research proved to be spot on. Trees send each other water and nutrients and warn each other of danger. Older “mother trees” nurture younger seedlings, even those of different species. And networks of trees, aided by mycorrhizal fungus that link their roots, can extend across vast expanses of forest, providing health and strength that is rapidly dissipated when humans clear cut or weed out “less desirable” species.

Suzanne Simard found that the health of our forests – and even the economic health of the forestry industry – was enhanced by long-term planning instead of short-term thinking. And this holds true for human activity in general. We now know that clear cutting trees harms the future vitality of forests when they’re replaced with a monoculture. We also know that it harms the ability of trees to capture carbon and reduce the impact of the climate crisis. Just like we now know that the short-term, wasteful economy that burns fossil fuels and relies heavily on single-use plastic must be replaced with an economy based on renewables, sustainability, and reuse. When we’re in it for the long term, we’re more in harmony with nature and at the same time aiding our economic future, which will inevitably be built on green technologies.

Similarly, we try to conceive of our art projects as long-term endeavors. Even if we were in and out of Cyprus in six weeks, racing to meet a deadline, it’s only as part of a longer term project that now includes contributions from the U.S., Czech Republic and Cyprus. Going forward, we’ll continue to add to the scope and depth of the project, imbuing it with additional power and meaning.

We’ll always be grateful to Kimonos Art Center and Yiannis Sakellis for the opportunity that the Episkeptes artist residency offered us. It boosted us forward in work that is critically important and that will continue to be a strong focus going forward. And it also moved us closer to a sustainable future. Like the precious work of mother trees in the forest, working generation after generation to ensure the health and vitality of younger plants, our residency in Pafos helped seed an ecologically responsible future.

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