Camilla Nelson’s The Forest Writes Itself

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Camilla Nelson: This work started its life as ‘paper trail’, a site specific installation of work that included approximately twenty pages, and numerous paper fragments, arranged along a mapped trail through Yarner Wood, Dartmoor, Devon.  ‘paper trail’ was one of several installations that made up ‘Assemblage: Narratives in the managed landscape’, an outdoor exhibition curated by Karen Pearson in association with Natural England.  The works that made up this exhibition were installed along a mapped trail that was walked by visitors.  For Karen, this exhibition was an experiment in curation: how does installing work outside over a long period of time affect how the work is made?  What can we learn from the interaction between this outdoor environment and these works as they inform each other over time?  What is the audience experience of this attempt to tell a story, however open-ended, by trailing artwork through a wood?  These questions chimed with those that were on my mind following the completion of my recent research into reading and writing with a tree.  For me, these questions had more of a literary focus: what are the challenges posed to the normalised processes and products of reading and writing once they are re-oriented around the environment of a specific tree?  My conclusion, based on the various writing experiments of my research, was that the writing environment speaks in the work.  The environments of normative reading and writing processes and products (such as libraries, study rooms, writing desks) speak, but their voices have grown so familiar that we have ceased to register their murmurings in the literary forms that have grown out of and into them.  The habits and habitats of these more normalized writing environments and their impact on text formation is brought sharply into focus once these products and processes are ‘de-natured’, once they are re-situated within the highly contrasting outdoor environments of trees.  The work here today is a reflection on the way in which forest and woodland influence the habits and habitats of writing in various ways.  The decayed materials on display in each of these boxes testify to the way in which the woodland rewrote the texts I made out of these sites and then replaced.  Each page was composed in relation to a particular site, within Yarner wood.  Each page was assembled out of a selection of physical materials taken from specific sites within the wood, photographs, audio recordings and further research into the biological, geological, historical and personal narratives that have been published, by an array of different authors, in relation to Yarner and the great range of life it encompasses.  Having composed a variety of written texts out of this cacophony of data, I pulped them, carefully mixing a combination of these paper works with the materials of each site to make a series of site-specific pages.  The sites from which these pages grew imprinted these pages with their own particular elements.  Once these pages were set I took them back to the site from which they were composed and re-sited them.  As the pages reacted to the physical conditions of these sites, their narratives changed.  This work was made with the following questions in mind: who, or what, writes here in this wood, and how?  Who is the author(ity)?  What is the work?  Here you find the narrative of the work has shifted once more.  At the end of the exhibition all remnants of the works had to be removed.  The fortnight of the exhibition coincided with a period of severe flooding in south west England and, as a result of the persistent torrential rain, very little remained of the pages I had made from each site, when it came to remove the work, only a few fragments persisted here and there.  I gathered these fragments into a series of boxes, some of which you see here before you today.  Each box acts as a scrambled anthology, containing a series of texts, only fragments of which are ‘mine’.  The works on display in the box are situated by a selection of texts and photographs that illustrate certain stages in the writing and re-writing process that was a part of this project.  Today’s work, situated as it is within an indoor exhibition environment, asks how is it that Yarner wood continues to write our environment here and now?  In what ways do woods and forests continue to affect our immediate experience?  What fragments of woods and forests inform this environment?  How are these trees re-membered?  These remnants of a ‘paper trail’ are displayed on a raft of branches taken from the Selwood in Somerset.  This raft of branches is situated on an old wooden pew whose origins are unknown.

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This entry was published on June 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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