Alice Tappenden, Ann Shelton, Jessica Hubbard
The Anthropocene and the Poster Child
An obsession with trees and forests (from the Greek [dendro-] meaning tree).
A proposed term for the present geological epoch (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards), during which humanity has begun to have a significant impact on the environment.
Worshipped and then exploited, planted and then felled. In the age of the anthropocene, it’s no wonder that trees have fared incredibly poorly. As our ever-advancing human race purports to see trees in a positive light, we simultaneously kill them in their millions in the service of mass consumption. For centuries, trees have remained central to western and non-western belief systems alike; they have been subjects of artistic representation; symbols of environmental virtue and central to the utilitarian needs of our daily lives. Their broad meanings, both sinister and virtuous, have been passed down over hundreds of years, during which they have been silent witnesses to history and unwittingly co-opted in the darkest of human spectacles. They have been implicated in hangings, torture, and genocide while also occupying a privileged position as the poster child of the green movement, symbolising earthliness, notions of the ‘natural’ and the idealisation of our relationship with the land. As the climate changes, ice poles melt, and species go extinct as never before, trees continue to host their own specific ecosystems. Did you know that thirty species of flora live in Tāne Mahuta alone?
The books that we read are made from trees, and here in Aotearoa New Zealand, they formed the raw material of our governing document Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi). Significantly – and in contrast to many other colonies in the world – this legal document lays out the agreed relationship between Māori and Pākehā and is now allowing legal redress to Māori for historic crimes and illegal land confiscations. Of particular relevance are the results of the WAI 262 Claim, more commonly known as the flora and fauna claim. First lodged in 1991, this pan-iwi claim addressed the ownership and use of rights in respect of mātauranga Māori or Māori knowledge and indigenous species. The Waitangi Tribunal’s whole-of-government report, ‘Ko Aotearoa Tēnei’ was released twenty years later, and found that Aotearoa’s laws and government policies ‘in many respects, […] fall short of partnership, instead marginalising Māori and allowing others to control key aspects of Māori culture […] Iwi and hapū are therefore unable to fulfil their obligations as kaitiaki (cultural guardians) towards their taonga.’1 Its 700+ pages cover concerns including decisions about flora, fauna and the wider environment; resource management; Mātauranga Māori in Science; rongoā Māori (Māori medicine); the commercialisation of taonga species and bioprospecting.
It is with all of these concerns (and more) in mind that we chose trees as the subject of Enjoy’s third Occasional Journal. Our mandate was simple: a wide brief would be sent out as an open call for contributions. We knew there would be other dendromaniacs out there, but even still, the responses we received were varied and wider in scope than we had anticipated. Presenting work that is personal and theoretical, historic and contemporary, visual and written, our contributors have risen to the challenge of considering trees in original, critical, and challenging ways. We hope that the diversity of the following responses will allow for contrasts, comparisons, discussion and further questioning from readers around the world.
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all Ridicule and Deformity… and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself.2
New Zealand Ministry of Justice, “Wai 262: Ko Aotearoa Tēnei: Report on the Wai 262 Claim Released.” http://www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/waitangi-tribunal/news/wai-262-ko-aotearoa-tenei-report-on-the-wai-262-claim-released, (accessed 14 February 2015).
William Blake, “Letter to the Revd. Dr Trusler”, in The Portable William Blake, ed. Alfred Kazin (London: Penguin, 1977): unpaginated.