Tree Story exhibition asks what we can learn from trees

Tree Story is an exhibition that brings together creative practices from around the world to create a ‘forest’ of ideas relating to critical environmental and sustainability issues. At its foundation – or roots – are Indigenous ways of knowing, recognition of trees as our ancestors and family and of Country being all around us.

Tree Story opens at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) on Saturday 6 February until Saturday 10 April 2021.

Forests are places of deep reverence and learning. Tree Story takes inspiration from the underground networks, information sharing and mutual support understood to exist within tree communities, and poses the question: what we can learn from trees?

Featuring 36 artists and projects – ranging from early 1970s environmental actions to the study of plant communications – Tree Story will be accompanied by a reader that includes newly commissioned and republished texts from artists, activists, ecologists, scholars, curators and authors that foreground First Nations’ knowledges, reflect on the rights and agency of trees, explore notions of cultural heritage, reveal knowledge of tree networks and consider loss in times of climate emergency. 

Curated by Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA with cultural advice from Dr Brian Martin, Associate Dean, Indigenous, Monash Art Design & Architecture.

Artists: Brook Garru Andrew (AU), Yto Barrada (FR/MA), Berdaguer & Péjus (FR), Joseph Beuys (DE), Tania Bruguera (CU), Hayley Panangka Coulthard (AU), Nici Cumpston (AU), Agnes Denes (HU/US), Yanni Florence (AU), Ceal Floyer (UK), Nicole Foreshew (AU), Henrik Håkansson (SE/DE), Beth Mbitjana Inkamala (AU), Judith Pungarta Inkamala (AU), Tim Johnson (AU), Reena Saini Kallat (IN), Peter Kennedy (AU), Olga Kisseleva (FR), Janet Laurence (AU), MAIX Reserved Forest (MY), Brian Martin (AU), Kent Morris (AU), Peter Mungkuri OAM (AU), Optronics Kinetics (AU), Uriel Orlow (CH/UK), Jill Orr (AU), Katie Paterson (UK), Ed Ruscha (US), Yasmin Smith (AU), Daniel Steegmann Mangrané (BR/ES), Stelarc (AU), Linda Tegg (AU) and The Tree School.

Highlights include:

Nici Cumpston’s large-scale photographs pay tribute to her Barkandji family whose connections are evident along the waterways throughout what is now known as the Murray Darling basin, and the messages conveyed by the trees along the Barka (Darling River).  

Tania Bruguera’s UNNAMED is a catalogue of people murdered for their actions protecting the environment. This participatory work, first presented at this year’s Sydney Biennale, invites the audience to choose a name and story from the catalogue, which tattooist, Lu, whose practice focuses on botanical interests, will then tattoo onto their skin using a traditional method of stick and poke, in an action of recognition and remembrance.

Yankunytjatjara artist and former stockman, Peter Mungkuri OAM is a highly respected Elder and leader both in his community and throughout the APY Lands. His paintings detail his extensive knowledge of Country and culture, reflecting on his experiences of droving and mustering cattle, his traditional upbringing, and the integrity of trees to every aspect of life.

“Everyone talks about environmental protection, but very few do anything about it,” said Joseph Beuys, who in Düsseldorf’s Grafenberger Woods staged the first of his environmental actions to protest the removal of the forest for a proposed country club tennis courts in 1972. Almost 50 years later, a group of artists and their colleagues in Malaysia have come together as MAIX Reserved Forest, acquiring a piece of land next to Perak State Reserved Forest to support the path of animals through the area and to learn from the forest and the community who live close to it. 

Janet Laurence’s Conversations with Trees 2020 is based on work she undertook for her solo exhibition in Taiwan in 2020 for which she photographed forests in the mountainous region of Nantou. Images of the forest are printed on transparent duraclear and suspended in front of mirrors creating a sense of the forest’s great depth and complexity. 

A nine day-long Tree School, (11 – 20 March 2021) will focus on critical environmental and sustainability issues, Indigenous ways of knowing and a recognition of trees as our ancestors and family. Coordinated by Yorta Yorta and Woiwurrung artist, organiser and educator Moorina Bonini in dialogue with The Tree School initiators, architects Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti; N’arweet Carolyn Briggs AM and Brian Martin of the Wominjeka Djeembana Indigenous Research Lab at Monash University; and colleagues from the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash Science, Monash Education and Monash Art Design & Architecture.

A beautiful publication and podcast series will accompany the exhibition along with a series of public programs. 

The six new commissions in the exhibition are supported by MUMA contemporaries.

Curator Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA; Dr Brian Martin, Associate Dean, Indigenous, Monash Art Design & Architecture and artists are available for interview.  

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Ground Floor, Building F, Monash University, Caulfield Campus, 900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East.

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