INDIA Blog 3 (Feb + March)

TREESTORY

With more questions than answers, I sort through my notes and links on Bangalore history, politics, civic engagement around trees, around avenue trees. (Here is a link to a good article on secular and domestic trees)

So happy to catch that co-dependent moment in Lalbagh!

My thoughts start from the premise of our relationship with and estrangement from nature – as city dwellers, as humans at the end of a centuries’ long quest to subjugate nature – rather than to cohabitate the planet as equals. Who gave us humans the right to decide over survival of other species, ignorant of the interconnectedness of our life with plant and animal life? In our fixation on economic growth a tree is marketable wood, plants are cash crops or weeds. The ‘work’ of plants and animals is unaccounted for, such as absorbing CO2 or pollinating our plants.

Looping back to trees: if they could talk our language, what would be their history, their story, their TREESTORY? We know trees communicate via roots, bacteria, fungi. Yet, is ‘humanizing’ a tree a good strategy? I decide that yes, it is a try to relate with a literal and visual language we humans understand.

A rain Tree and a Gulmohar tree in conversation

A century ago Lalbagh director Krumbiegel also worked outside the garden, planting the now huge avenue trees in an innovative street-by-street design for seasonal sequential bloom. Many trees now are in a precipitous state as traffic increases, roads widen and dust mixes with exhaust fumes. Some are literally in the road, asphalt up to their roots. But awareness is growing, and citizen protests have saved some. Check the changing tree cover on the Google Earth history timeline!

Google Earth image of Lalbagh West gate area 2000 + 2019

At the Lalbagh metro we overlook the border between Botanical Garden and street. On the inside are majestic trees – separated by a wall from equally majestic trees outside, but many of them deprived of air, sun, room for their roots, tree pits filled with garbage, trunks full of staples from flyers, used for coils of electric cables – but a few are shrines, some are watered with small plants around them.

Love me – love me not. A tree outside the Lalbagh wall + inside.

Why do we respect a tree in a protected environment like a botanical garden – and not in the street?

Listening up close to the Rain + Gulmohar trees

Just inside the park I spot two large trees. When seen from the ground, their branches reach out to one another. Do they talk? Do they have a common history with trees along the street? Do their roots touch under the wall?

I plan an installation with a layered projected animation using the silhouettes of those branches – imagine words, imagine their history.

With the concepts firming up I get to the technical end: I test black-white projections onto steps of the station. Another projection with semi-transparent layers of scrims and scarfs and thin papers move in the breeze of the open station. Metro passengers can participate by adding comments or imaginary stories online or on hanging paper strips in the path of the projection light. The layers of fabrics and papers will give density to the animation and projection – much like a re-imagined curtain of the marvelous air roots of the revered Banyan trees. Can the stories connect us to a tree, stop indifference – if for a day? The Thursday afternoon test with sample fabrics looks good. Ideas keep bubbling up.

Trees on both sides of the wall

Yash and Anna have set up a table with leaves, bark, seeds along with a digital microscope hooked to a projector. The strikingly beautiful detail stops people and makes them look at nature anew.

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