Stranger to the Trees realises in hybrid artistic form the new materiality of forests in the time of ubiquitous human-made plastic pollution.
The multimedia project explores the complementary coexistence of microplastics and trees as carbon sinks. How do trees and microplastics coexist in forests, capturing carbon in the time of the climate crisis? Combining video, interactive sound and sculpture, Stranger to the Trees queries the response of forest ecosystems to the ubiquitous and irrevocable dispersal of microplastics around the Earth.
What we consider to be our environment unequivocally and ubiquitously contains plastic. Plastics have been found to be present even at the outskirts of human reach: at the bottom of the Mariana trench, in the rain, clouds and atmosphere. While plastic can be detrimental to the quality of an ecosystem, plastic pollution is also a carbon sink, storing carbon and keeping carbon dioxide and methane out of the atmosphere. But is this carbon sink, itself an embodiment of industrial processes that contribute to the climate crisis, in competition or complementarity to forests? By what processes will they become together?
This project builds on ongoing artistic research by Dr Kat Austen (UK/DE) on the topics of microplastic and the climate crisis. Austen is focussing on the coexistence of birch trees with microplastics and developing artistic and DIY scientific research methods to explore this. The birch is a pioneer species, colonising land disrupted by human, following human and industrial pollution. Not demanding of the soil, birch withstands both full sunlight and low temperatures. These characteristics define the birch as a perfect pioneer in the plastisphere. The artistic research focusses on birch groves in forests between Berlin, Germany and Wroclaw, Poland and will include microscopy and histology of tree parts, field recordings of audio and video from forests where microplastic and trees cohabit to examine the incorporation and rejection between plastics and trees with the constant consideration of the possibility for complementarity and coexistence.