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What it Means to Plant a Forest

Agnes Denes, \
Agnes Denes, "Tree Mountain - A Living Time Capsule - 11,000 Trees - 11,000 People - 400 Years", Ylöjärvi, Finland, planted in 1996.

A massive earthwork and artificial mountain, this land reclamation project involved planting 11,000 trees in an intricate mathematical pattern derived from a combination of the golden section and a sunflower/pineapple pattern designed by the artist.


What it means to plant a forest as a work of art - well, many things. For one, it is taking art out of the museum or gallery and changing its preciousness and collectibility but not its beauty or meaning. It is creating something borderless and timeless, although the works use four dimensions very clearly defined.

Just taking the art out of the machinery of the art world is a joy by itself.

The fact that a forest planted for the future is also a good thing adds to the disobedience of its also being beautiful in its intricate patterning (so different from the garden, landscape, architecture or nature itself) Beauty if frowned upon right now in art isms, which of course means nothing because it can come back any time through a clever article by some critic claiming it is time for beauty.

So in a sense, planting a forest as art is a taboo. It is beautiful and it is a good thing, ecologically sane land restoration and calling to account in the face of industrial expansion, aggression and exploitation. In art language, a taboo. If art, it should not be benign, it should be malignant. Beauty is the sure bearer of weakness, and usefulness is a killer. Art should be above all that, it should nauseate, disturb, arouse and so on. Okay, why not, but I feel that beauty can also be so brilliant and breathtaking that it disturbs. And art can be useful in an ailing world and natural, not artificial and still be great art. Plato, Plato. Mirror. Mirror.

Agnes Denes, \
Agnes Denes, "Tree Mountain - A Living Time Capsule - 11,000 Trees - 11,000 People - 400 Years", original drawing, 1983.

Planting a forest is opening up the earth to receive the seeds or seedlings like the canvas is prepared, gessoed and the ground sketch applied. There is no border here, no edge of the canvas, and thus no restrictions. The forest is patterned but spills over its boundaries in time as in space and concept, it means re establishing disturbed and destroyed land, creating roots to hold eroding land and keeping global warming down, photo synthesis up, clean ground water and a million things trees do besides grow and become aesthetics.

Trees see so much history, they sway and whisper, hibernate and turn to blossoms. My forests are not landscaping where a tree is put there for contrast among paths and bushes to decorate a park or garden. A serious forest means business, not cutting business or profit, but demanding attention, respect, awe if beautiful and mysterious. Patterning and mathematics mixed with nature, the human intellect pitted against and positioned with nature's intelligence not to win but to unite instinct with intellect, process with pattern, back to a state and forward to a hybrid. Unite the state of the art processes of the mind on the edge of knowledge and let it blend with nature. Don't be afraid, it won't disturb either. The hybrid will be a new state of existence, a new form of art. That it is also a gift to the future is added attraction, that it is land reclamation may be a plus, but first of all it is art. The human intellect blending with the majesty of nature.

I am an artist in the truest sense of the word: I live, think and create art all my life and my creativity is all consuming and never ebbs. It is a lush forest that grows in often barren land.

Agnes Denes, \
Agnes Denes, "Tree Mountain - A Living Time Capsule - 11,000 Trees - 11,000 People - 400 Years", winter view, Ylöjärvi, Finland, planted in 1996.

This essay, written in 1983, is an excerpt from the upcoming monograph about the work of Agnes Denes to be released at the end of 2005. © 1983 Agnes Denes. All rights reserved.

For more information please visit Agnes Denes: Projects for Public Places or the artist's section on

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