At the intersection of visual art and nature, one’s cultural history is enhanced and fed by a reinvention of encounters with space and climate. Sightlines shift in the constant and inexhaustible season of winter forming a consistent and complex relationship of changing bodies in space. Nature suggests a constant (re)negotiation of living, the sensation of looking thus becoming even more symbolic in the organization of experience.
Presented as family portraits, Howalt and Søndergaard’s noble trees stand stoically under the weight of nature. We view a real-time transition of flake after millionth flake that develop mass and volume shifting how we view trees. No longer the beautiful umber and moss green of spring, they stand bare, alone, hidden in the guise of profound whiteness, developing in themselves a new identity or becoming a representation of the world around them. They subsist in this barren landscape, alone and growing all the denser with their winter ware. We sit watching and imagining their rebirth in spring, in a place of colourful spectacle and joyful pollination or not white. Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays c’est l’hiver… sang out Quebecois folksinger Gilles Vigneault in his seminal nationalistic anthem in 1965.¹
Loosely translated, he sings that his country is not a country, land, people, or feeling; rather, his country (and therefore his home) is winter:
Dans ce pays de poudrerie Mon père a fait bâtir maison Et je m’en vais être fidèle A sa manière, à son modèle
In this land of powder My father built home And this keeps me loyal To his manner, and his model
Location disappears under the whitescape of the season. People, like trees, disappear under reams of warmth, huddling into themselves like turtles or birds. They become part of winter, epitomizing the cold and the solitude, as well as the potential for starting anew, glorious, pure and untouched. In Quebec, where I am from, the whiteness of snow is more than just the stuff of forecasters: snow in its glorious is an identity, profoundly situating a population of over seven million people.
We look at these trees rooting themselves to a place. Like sentinels standing guard, they oversee a land; they are markers of territories. They nourish an empty landscape, adding elegance and beauty and referencing time, place and memory. They are individualized subjects and models of what they reference: a land of harsh climate and solitude, where neighbours are far away. The trees act as markers of proprietorship and the potential of an inevitable transition.
¹ Commissioned from Gilles Vigneault by the National Film Board for Arthur Lamothe’s 1965 film ‘La Neige a Fondu sur la Manicouagan’.