Der Wald (The Forest), 2019
4k video, colour, sound, 8’ 47’’
Director, camera, sound, editing: Antje Majewski
Photographs: Heinrich Krieger
Composer: Katrin Vellrath
Mezzo-soprano: Vizma Zvaigzne
Percussion: Daniel Eichholz
Recording engineer: Johannes Winde
Sound editor: Christian Obermaier
The forest grows by itself. It takes a long time, a lot of time, and many different species of trees grow that are connected to many other living beings. Forestry was invented in the nineteenth century in order to make the forest produce straight trees in the service of mankind that could soon be harvested. Today, only a few different tree species have been planted in these forests, which are at risk due to climate change. The more droughts alternate with extreme weather events, the more the trees are weakened and become easy prey for various pests and pathogens. Huge amounts of lumber have been lost over the past two years. Now, the realization is finally gaining ground that mixed forests are also economically necessary. Some foresters already plant only very few starter seedlings and let the forest grow on its own. But that means giving up part of the use; it also means that we have to deal with lumber differently. Instead of wasting it on paper or pellet heating, we should see it as something very valuable again: the pure solar energy that the tree has transformed and that we can continue to transform.
Other living beings have their own lives in which we participate. But if we claim too much for ourselves, we kill what we live on.
Are we like the bark beetles that infest the spruces, one after the other, until none are left? Only then does the bark beetle population collapse. They no longer find trees to breed in, and the number becomes radically reduced.
Or are we like the spruces that grow too close to one another, always the same species, so that there are no natural barriers against pests and diseases? Either way, it doesn’t look good.
What would it mean if we reconsidered ourselves as beings in a mixed forest? How should we live? Which other living things should be given space alongside us?
In Antje Majewski’s video work The Forest (2019), you can see the devastated expanse of a forest last summer, in which large areas are completely barren. We also see one of the first sustainable forests in Saxony and a newly established mixed forest. We see photos of forests that Majewski’s great-grandfather, the forest economist Heinrich Krieger (1887–1966), took in the last century. We can look at the photos like a forester, but also enjoy them aesthetically. Even for foresters, life with the forest is not just a rational matter. Surrounded by oaks that were planted for his 80th birthday, the grave of the founder of the Tharandt Forest Academy, Heinrich Cotta (1763–1844), is a very romantic place. Majewski’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Karl Leberecht Krutzsch (1772–1852), witnessed the planting of the oak trees. He taught soil science and forest botany at the Forest Academy and published a book on the topic of “Whether the bark beetle only infests sick, or also healthy trees” in 1825. While Cotta’s oaks are in their prime, many generations of people have since died—as well as countless generations of bark beetles.
What will the forest look like in 100 years? The Saxon forest, the Cameroonian forest, the forest in the Brazilian Cerrado, the forest in southern China … what will climate change do, what will the foresters‘ decisions make of the forests?
And we humans? How will we live? Will we understand that we are only one living being among many—and that we can only live well if the others are also well?
Will we learn to appreciate and love all the others?