Trees in coffins

Image: Christo Two wrapped trees 1969 (detail), two Eucalyptus trees, polyethylene, tarpaulin, rope, Gift of the John Kaldor Family Collection 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, © Christo

by Juundaal Strang Yettica

Juundaal Strang Yettica: “I don’t know much about much but the learning keeps me alive!”

Hello! hello!  It’s good to be with you again!

Now, where were we? Shall we pick up where we left off? Last week, the questions before us were, what is land art and is it important to society? 

I set about finding out and here’s some of what I’ve come up with…The definition of land-art according to the Tate in the United Kingdom, is art made directly in or on the landscape, manipulating the land or making structures on the land with natural materials…twigs or rocks… Land art is also referred to as earth art and artists are known for bringing the outside, inside the gallery, creating land art installations…It seems to me now that, this could catch on and be cool…especially given climate change and the pressure our environment is under. Where else better to advocate for nature but from within it? But that would be eco-art, yes?

So, I looked around me and thought I’d ask our questions of some of the exhibition visitors along the way and casually feel out the general consensus. Given where we are, the outcome was almost an obvious prediction and all respondents agree, land-art is important to society! When I asked the folks why do they think this way, the majority pointed out to me that, land-art is important because it brings art out of the gallery and as a consequence, art becomes visible to more people. It seems that art is important and it is important that art be shared.

Naturally curious to learn why people believe art is important, I started asking around and some of these conversations took turns toward the deep and philosophical…People feel quite strongly that art is a necessary part of society and an essential part of life. Visitors told me that art teaches us things, not just about the world we live in but about ourselves. 

Come with me, let’s see what we can learn… the first work that calls my attention is, The Wrapped Trees (1969) by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Amid the chatter and giggling of school children, a long white box has been laid on the floor. To me it looks like a coffin without a lid. Inside the coffin-box, silent and still, are two trees, roots and branches wrapped and bound tight. This is land-art. According to what we’ve learned so far, the land has been brought from outside, wrapped and bound and brought inside. I’m sure there’s a back story and a framework through which we are meant to view these trees. But  I’m sorry folks, I’m not feeling it. 

I am however, feeling very, very uncomfortable about these trees, wrapped and bound, brought from outside to inside, laid down in a long white box, like a coffin without a lid. I’m wondering was this feeling, this the artists’ intention? I want to know, were they alive when they were wrapped and bound, top and bottom? Were they pulled out of the earth by their roots for wrapping and binding? Did this artistic wrapping and binding suffocate and kill them? 

Now, I do not have traditional Indigenous knowledge but I do care about the environment. I grew up in Glebe and am always within arm’s reach of a cafe latte, but these trees, I can’t let go. When it comes to anything to do with the Land, it has always and will always be part of Indigenous People’s care and concern. For me, this includes art made on the land. 

In the first edition of Extra! Extra! We offered our respect to the Gadigal people and Eora nation and to the land. Doesn’t that land, include trees? The questions I have may not have any bearing on artistic intention or creative celebrity but I want to know…Where did the trees come from? Whose land, whose nation do they belong to? Where they given or taken? Can’t we give them back, bring them Home? Have they really been wrapped and bound like that, laid in a long white box, like a coffin without a lid, for fifty years? 

I don’t know much about much folks but, when I look at these trees, I feel grief.

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