It appears as if all forms of life, especially now, are in a race for survival. Some might think that, in order to succeed, they must surround themselves with those they most resemble to make it easier to predict and understand behaviors and their environment. Others might think it is wiser to put as much distance as possible between themselves and anyone else so as to minimize any potential drain on limited natural supplies. Many have convinced themselves that their survival depends on their ability to extract resources from nature, monetize them as assets, and strengthen themselves via wealth and power. During the past few centuries, Western theories of biological evolution, alongside economic models centered around the individual, have taught us that competition is the motor of life and that genes are selfish, leading all organisms to fight for themselves, with only the fittest surviving.
But trees teach us a different and more collaborative side of the story. The more diverse a forest is, the healthier it is, and the more closely connected its trees are, the more resilient they become. Different trees contain diverse and complementary bits of vital knowledge, and should a single species dominate or become invasive, the forest, as a whole, weakens. While this might sound like a metaphor, it’s a biological fact: life can only flourish if and when different living beings coexist alongside each other. Homogeneity and lack of inter-connectedness prevent life from thriving.
Trees also tell us how little we know about how survival actually works. They form underground networks, where carbon, fungi, and nutrients are passed from one to another. Chemical signals by one tree prepare another for danger because, together, all trees behave as a single body or organism. A forest is not just a collection of trees, but a complex society that thrives and relies on cooperation, rather than self-interest.
While the artists included are human animals, this exhibition proposes an “arboreal” way of understanding the world and invites us to rethink the relationship we have with the forests and with one another. The artists’ works draw on Indigenous knowledge and experience, notions of inner sound and resonance, Buddhist pragmatism, the practice of walking, activism, and biology. While trees appear to be static, unable to move from one place to another, their bodies contain the many interconnected layers and nuances that make life possible.