Forest - Matter of Live and Death
In Finland, just as everywhere in the world, our relationship with nature has determined our survival. We have depended upon our knowledge of the threats and the possibilities of nature. Industrialisation gave us the means to make nature to our servant, also in Finland.
We Finns consider ourselves a nation close to nature because we live in “the most densely forested country in the world”. Most of our forest acreage we have submitted to forestry: only about one per cent of the forrest acreage in the south of Finland is in the natural state. The most important purpose of the forest is to supply uniform timber for industrial use. Thus the Finnish forests have been grown to consist of uniform trunks with a record low average age of 44 years. Trees older than 150 years old are only found in one per cent of the forests in Finland. Finland is a land of recently planted forests. We have plenty of forest acreage, but much less timber. In comparison to the forests in Germany, Sweden, Poland or even France, they all have more timber.
The most significant change in our forests, alongside the low average age, is the huge decrease in the amount of deadwood. In a natural forest there is 60-90 cubic meters of deadwood per hectare, in comparison to the 2-10 square meters per hectare in a production forest. But without deadwood the forest is no longer a healthy forest. Death, generating life, is essential to the diversity of a forest.
Periodic cover silviculture, ie. clear cutting, soil management and planting only one type of tree, has for decades presided over forest management in Finland, and this method is the main reason our forests have become so homogenous. But if we could empty out a whole lake from all of the fish and stock it with only once species, would we? Continuous-cover silviculture, made legal a few years ago, would add to the diversity of the forests. In this method, only the log-sized trees are cut down and the rest, whatever the size, are left to grow and woud diversify the age and size structure of the forests. Let us add to the forestry law, that each acre of forest needs to have a certain amount of trees that are left untouched for the course of their whole life cycle, including dying, falling and rotting. Continuous-cover silviculture as growing method and retention trees would make obsolote the either-or debate over harvested forests and natural state forests. Nature values and the forest industry need not be mutually noninclusive.
In order to change our processes, we first need to reflect upon our opinions and ideas. Every one of us has a conception of the forest and everything the word includes. Is it for us a source of material we take for granted? What else is a forest? It is also just as important to consider what we don’t include in our conceptions of the forest. Is there something in the natural life cycle of a forest that we think doesn’t really belong?
But what do our conceptions of the forest and the forest industry have to do with my sculptures? Through them, I wish to prompt observers in Finland and abroad to reflect and evaluate their relationship with the forest. Deadwood is an essential part of my art, just as essential as it is to a healty, diverse forest. For me, as material, wood is already half finished, and my preforms always determine their final form themselves. My job is to bring out and highlight as well as possible whatever there already is within the piece. My sculptures represent the forests in all their diversity and are born within a balanced interaction with the forest. I would like to see an increase of this balance in our relationship with the forests, and I hope my sculptures are able to convey just that.
Let us use the trees in the forests terms.