Tree wading: Artistic ritual

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Tree wading shows the power of art and ritual

Beautiful Creatures

Trees are fantastic creatures. They are essential for the oxygen balance of the planet, provide fuel, we make furniture with them, they are a habitat for countless animals, and so much more. They are one of the wonders that keep our planet alive. They connect to the Earth with their roots and reach the sky with their branches. Together they form forests and parks, biotopes of healthy, life-giving nature. When trees disappear, they deserve our attention.

Participatory art project makes prints of dead trees

The participatory art project encourages the relationship between people and trees by making prints of fallen trees. The city of Leuven supports the project.

The project started with a personal initiative: printing the trunk of a fallen tree in my area to say goodbye and honour the tree – reflecting in a ritual-artistic way on the importance of trees for the forest as an ecosystem and on the tree as a living being. The process started with actions to pay homage, give thanks, and connect on a spiritual level, including a pipe ceremony (North American tradition). Subsequently, a print was made on natural linen using a technique similar to woodcuts and with natural ink. We rubbed the canvas with stones to allow the ink to penetrate.

A subsidy from the city of Leuven has now made it possible to repeat the process with various target groups and organisations.

It was great fun making prints of the tree together. It was the first time we had done something like this. We also talked about the tree. We were allowed to make the paint and smear it on the tree. Then we put the cloth on the tree and rubbed it with stones or our hands. Our print was very nice. It was a giant print. It was nice to be able to carry this to Elisabeth’s house. We were allowed to come to the opening of the exhibition. Our print hung up there. We were proud to be there. We were just real artists. We definitely want to do this again (or something else).

A response from the group of gifted people

Preparatory workshops followed by an artistic ritual

At the participating organisations – a horticultural school, an association for people in poverty, and an institution for the differently gifted – we always started with a preparatory workshop with a double objective: to teach the technical skills required and to enter into a conversation about the participants’ relationship with trees and on themes such as saying goodbye. We then went together to the forest, where an artistic ritual followed.

It always started with the walk to the place of the fallen tree, followed by the ritual: connecting to the tree, making the print (in several stages, repeating the same actions over and over), and thanking and saying goodbye to the tree.

Although the experience differed each time, a relationship quickly developed with the tree, which became a participant in the process. The atmosphere evolved from searching, sometimes awkwardly, to being connected and happy. Every time beautiful conversations came up, and there was much singing.

Finally, an exhibition of the various prints and a video of the process was held in Leuven center.

Vulnerable connection to a tree

It was often a new experience for the participants to open up to an emotional connection with a tree. It was healing and connecting. For example, the atmosphere in a class of 8 landscapers-in-training changed radically from ‘tough teenagers’ who preferred to keep their emotions to themselves to a close-knit group of boys who were there for each other. Since then, many have looked at trees and the forest differently. Consciousness changed – the experience is one of connection with other living beings. In general, the day is experienced as healthy and healing.

The exhibition linked to the project made the participants feel even more proud of their work.