On 23 March (the same day that the 55th National Tree Day was celebrated in the Netherlands) I attended the opening ‘Make a Forest’ event. This project, organized by Anne van der Zwaag and Joanna van der Zanden, brings together dozens of designers, architects, writers, students and other creative spirits from all over the world. They are teaming up during the United Nations International Forest Year to manufacture dozens of trees in order to form an Art Forest. Judging by this opening event, Anne and Joanne seem certain to achieve their aim of bringing about a unique marriage between sustainable forestry and artistic creativity.
On this beautiful spring day, just under 80 guests came together on the first floor of Schieblok (a creative centre in a former office complex) in Rotterdam. The gathering consisted of a few representatives from the ‘nature world’ and a lot more from the ‘art world’. After a rousing opening talk by Anne van der Zwaag, Frits Mohren of Wageningen University and Roel Posthoorn of the nature organization Natuurmonumenten gave a passionate presentation spotlighting lots of facts, figures and other fascinating information about forests and nature in the Netherlands. Apparently, we visit the woods two hundred million times every year. Each of us uses one cubic metre of wood per year. Our woods annually capture 1.4 Megatonnes of CO2. And scientists still do not understand exactly how trees manage the gravity-defying feat of transporting incredible quantities of water up tens of metres from roots to leaves through that gigantic, constantly growing wood pole we call the trunk.
- Monobanda showed us their plans for a Zen-oriented game where the players ‘build’ a tree. The game is not about winning or losing, but seeks to give the players the pure, tranquil and poetic experience of being a tree.
- Stang Gubbels told us what inspired him several years ago to produce his illustrated book about trees entitled ‘Boomstang’. To his surprise, everyone he approached for the project turned out to have a special emotional attachment with forests, trees or wood.
- Duzan Doepel demonstrated a few of the green projects of Doepel Strijkers Architects. These projects are green not only in the sense of using sustainable materials, but also by re-using materials and buildings, cladding houses with greenery, and combining energy flows in smart ways.
But the highlight of Make a Forest’s opening day was naturally Christien Meindertsma’s presentation of the first tree for the projected Art Forest <<< link http://www.christienmeindertsma.com/ >>>
By sheer coincidence, she had just completed a ‘Make a Forest’ tree for Innovation Agro & Nature precisely when Anne and Joanna were looking for one for their project. What had triggered our request was, firstly, my fascination with the fact that we all use nature’s products and services, without ever giving nature itself a second thought; secondly, the awareness that we in the Netherlands could harvest a lot more wood than we do at present; and thirdly, our current quest to create a broader base of support for nature and nature policy. For all these reasons, I asked her last year to design a work of art expressing the intimate relationship between nature production and nature consumption.
Using a tree that she had been given by the Dutch Forestry Commission, Christien made a life-size set of train rails (a big brother of the birchwood toy that many people like to give their nephews and nieces) with dozens of little trains packed full with the nutrients trees use to generate wood. I think it is a beautiful piece of work, and I certainly wasn’t the only one. Once we have fitted it out with the necessary communication materials, we are going to take this art work around the country. Trees on Tour! I’m intrigued to see whether that gets the debate about nature and nature policy really up and running...