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How many trees to make a forest ?

During an Art residency in Iceland, Juliette Bibasse and Joanie Lemercier are planting trees. Here’s a daily diary (original twitter thread).

September 20th 2019: Today we’re planting some trees. It snowed on the nearby peaks last night. It’s 7°C, but it feels like 3°C. We’re well equipped, and we have racks of small trees ready to be planted.

We have 396 trees to plant:
– 48 Ilmreynir (rowan tree)
– 80 Stafafura (contorta pine tree)
– 268 Birki (birch tree)

Here’s the site, and here’s our plan (left picture).

How to plant a tree:
We use this tool: the POTTIPUTKI
1- Push the POTTIPUTKI into the ground.
2- Step on the POTTIPUTKI to open the jaws.
3- Choose your tree
4- Drop your tree in the POTTIPUTKI
5- Remove the POTTIPUTKI
6- Tighten the soil around the tree and you’re done !

How can technology help us to create our forest ?

experiment #1: 3D scan of the land with a drone.
It’s probably the first time I use #photogrammetry to capture something useful, rather than something ‘pretty’.

experiment #2: laser scan of a small chunk of land (5m x 5m) to survey the structure and potential carbon capture of Icelandic soil and trees.

Chris Hancock from Winrock helped us to make an estimation of the carbon capture of this 5m x 5m (6 trees, heavy grass), it may sequester a maximum of 120 kg of CO2 captured annually.

So why do we do this ?
Both Juliette and myself are very interested in planting trees, and creating forests, and we realized we might have different reasons, and all is still unclear.
Here are some thoughts.

Growing one’s imagination.

Planting these trees is a way to grow our imagination.
Today, this forest only exists in our minds as on the ground it is really a bunch of minuscule plants lost in the middle of rocks and tall weeds.

Taking the time to plant them one by one made us consider them as individuals that will become one entity, one project, humanly organized in a way that was decided by us.
Thanks to our imagination, this can instantly become *the forest* / *our forest* when, in reality, it will take decades to look like grown up plants and hopefully one day a proper forest with an circular clearing in the center.

Are 396 trees even a forest, back to the question raised by title : How many trees to make a forest ?
Our attempt to answer is that this is not a matter of numbers but really the intention you put into it.

It is important for us to share this imaginary with others. We are using it to engage people around us and as an example of how individuals can make in a time-frame that is beyond one’s life.
This may be a bit candid but so is something as universal as planting trees to make your own forest.

An art practice can play a role in the discussions about our planet and climate issues. But we also want to demonstrate that being active is the first step into making a difference, and making your opinion counts.

In our process, technology is one of the tools allowing us to generate visual assets that will fuel our imagination.

It took the same amount of time to trace every single tree as it took to plant them. It shows how unique each one is.

I was curious about carbon offset. I feel a profound guilt when travelling by plane, and despite a drastic reduction of my flights (from 40+ per year previously, to only 4 and a half return flights in 2019), I still feel bad.

Carbon offset schemes are designed for that very purpose. To Buy off your guilt.
Ship in 5 or 10 extra euros while booking your flight, and you will help planting a couple of trees, that should technically offset your 6 hour flight over their 40 years lifetime.

6 hours. Over 40 years. This is non-sense.

Companies, leaders, CEOs, offer those magic green solutions, so “together, we can create a better future“.

If we keep listening to these empty words, we’re fucked.
There is no better future, this is all a big scam and we’re heading towards a wall.

That “better future” being nowhere in sight, I want to leave my shiny flickery visuals for a moment and think how we could use technology and creative tools to create “imaginaries“.

So our forest is imaginary. It’s an idea.
Once the idea exists, if we combine it with action (in this case buying crops, planting them), this imaginary might become reality, in 10 or maybe 20 years from now.

The creative process is key for us. While we had grand plans of a huge land-art piece, reality shrunk our ambition to a more humble scale for that first project. But the research, sketches, paintings, laser and 3D scans, discussions with Juliette led to rich and captivating exchanges about geometry, trees, humans, and our imaginary life in 20 years from now.

So we’ve invested in our imaginary:
– Time: it took about half a day with Juliette to plant 200 trees each
– Money: About 300 euros will give you 400 trees in Iceland.
– Body: the physical action of planting, in the cold. That was fun, refreshing and fulfilling.

Of course a forest isn’t just a bunch of trees. It’s an ecosystem, the soil, plants, moss, insects.. it might requires several decade-long cycles to resemble a forest, maybe it never will. But at least now that we’ve planted it, and we’re willing to invest more in this imaginary, so there’s now a good chance it might exist someday.

Technology and art have a huge potential to create these imaginaries, to both create ideas and implement them.

This feels like an early iteration of a larger project, with trees and forests, solar and wind power, laser and sun light projectors, water screens, clouds, mirrors and lenses, craft, offline computers, sensors, recycling and up-cycling, drones, hiking, creative coding, mountains and volcanoes.

We’re hoping to be back in the coming years to follow up this project and discover how the trees will grow and develop over time.
Trees should reach our height in about 10-12 years, around 2030.


  • Willpower

    septembre 30, 2019 at 10:13

    beautiful project. a great way to use technology, creativity, with the intention and actions of helping the earth. very inspiring for me to question myself and how I can further work with earth with the goal of not just protection and conservation, but also nourishment for the soil and microbacteria for a fertile ground. at the same time, Carbon Dioxide is the gas of life. Without it, plants cannot give us oxygen.
    Always learning, and loving your work as always 🙂

  • Felix de Rosen

    octobre 2, 2019 at 2:08

    Hi Joanie,

    interesting post. I’m graduate student in landscape architecture at UC Berkeley.
    I’ve got two questions:
    1) Who will check in on the tress while you are away?
    2) What’s the relation between the laser scan and calculating carbon offset? I’ve never used a laser scanner before but have been really interested in it as an aesthetical tool.


  • Brian Symes

    octobre 20, 2020 at 10:43

    Here in Portland I have planted for 30 years with the Friends of Trees . Please if there is a link to keep up with the growth of this new forest email me.

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