Updated: Jul 10
The task was to choose from a selection of doors that lead to different creative inquiries. The idea behind it to let the mind wonder through trains of thought with no definitive path or destination. I chose the door that seemed the most aesthetically appealing. It felt like the type of door where you would knock three times and be greeted by a Hobbit. I was led to an article by Maria Popova ‘Drawing a Tree: Uncommon Vintage Italian Meditation on the Existential Poetics of Diversity and Resilience Through the Art and Science of Trees’. Popova examines the beauty and resilience of trees through the work of Bruno Munari’s 1978 book ‘Drawing a Tree,’ which looks at “this endless, life-affirming dialogue between a tree’s predestined structure and its living shape.” (2014). Popova looks at the many form’s trees can take as they adapt to their environment. While they can bend, twist and contort, a tree is still always a tree, and has the capability to remain true to its form! In comparing the human to the tree. Like that of humans, a trees experience of the world is healing from hurt. The main message coming from the article being that trees can teach us not only about ourselves, but about beauty, consciousness and sentience.
SENTIENCE AND PANPSYCHISM!
For me trees are sentient beings, however I question whether or not that sentience can persist through its transformation into table and chair? There is a narrative in the popular imagination of musical instruments being inhabited with consciousness. (The Red Violin, The Piano Lesson). This concept can be further investigated through the theories of panpsychism! According to Peter Ells, (2011) “panpsychism is the concept that everything that exists possesses some weak form of consciousness, (et.al) these properties have actually been witnessed in the results of quantum experiments.”
There is also a question around minerals and sentience? For example, if a car is made out of an organic material, and if that car has an accident, could you argue that the car might therefore, suffer some form of sentient or conscious damage. Like a tree, a car can wear its scars, but unlike trees the car cannot heal itself, and is doomed to the life of the scrap metal junk yard. That is of course unless its parts can be recycled, and given another form. According to Atherton (2018) whose interesting research on pianos in Australia somehow came into my wormhole adventure, it is much more likely to recycle car parts than it is to recycle piano’s. As he suggests, “there are motor wreckers who sell saleable vehicle parts, but very little of a wrecked piano finds its way into another instrument.” (para 1) Atherton’s book draws attention to how piano’s can have an anthropomorphic hold on their owners, an idea which could account for the ‘haunted instrument’ narrative as transference of energy from human to instrument.
While we now know that trees communicate, live in family groups, can develop protective mechanisms against predators, care for their sick and are inter-connected by mycelium networks which run tens of kilometres underground, I question whether trees can actually talk. (Wohlleben, 2016). While we know they make ambient noises, it would be interesting to examine if there is any research into a tree’s vocalisation of pain, sorrow or fear!
NATURE AS CULTURE!
Is our experience of nature really as we perceive? Nature seems wild and unpredictable. We see it as undomesticated, full of unknowns and fundamentally a never-ending source of natural resources.
But is this really the case? Could it be that it is manicured, tamed and even designed by human’s precedence on the planet? Is nature already a product of cultural influence? Pictures of Sydney from the first settlement show swathes of purposefully maintained grassy paddocks. (Pascoe, 2018) A hundred years on the artistic depiction is somewhat different. In its place is bush and shrubs intermingled with exotics brought over to make settlers feel more at home. Just like indigenous people sculpted the landscape for the well-being of both themselves and nature, colonialism and the introduction of hard hooved animals, like livestock, changes landscape. What did the planet look like before the arrival of human beings? We will never know!
Fractals are patterns inside of patterns or “a patterned order underlying a great many apparent irregularities in nature” (Popova, n.d.) Like crystals, snowflakes, and cauliflower, branches of trees and fronds of ferns are the best way to understand the concept.
The pattern of the leaf being a micro version of the pattern of the tree. The whole being made up of little replicas of the original.
While the scientific discovery of fractals is only a century old, artists have had an understanding of the concept since time. We can see fractal geometry in visionary art, mandalas, textiles and religious iconography.
TREES AT NIGHT!
Looking at Arthur Henry Young’s, ‘Trees at Night’ pictures I am immediately perplexed. This visionary artist was able to capture a different perspective on trees by observing them at night. Leaving the imagination to fill in the gaps.
Living in the rain forest myself it’s something we often do, is sit out front at night and check out all the shapes and contours casted in the shadows of the night. The way in which Arthur captured these moments artistically is unique. while not purely an individual experience, manifesting this curiosity into the material world is what’s brilliant.
TREES AND TIME!
The final journey I took was to look at Rachel Sussman’s photographs of the world’s oldest living organisms from fungi to trees. Her photographic book is a contemplation about an individual’s humans fleeting moment on the planet in comparison to such ancient organisms. Popova explains, “organisms that have unflinchingly witnessed all of our own tragedies and triumphs, our wars and our revolutions, our holocausts and our renaissances, and have remained anchored to existence more firmly than we can ever hope to be.”
WHAT SPARKS MY CURIOSITY?
Things that linger on in the popular imagination whether that be far- fetched tales or some form of absolute truth.
Things that blur the line between fiction and non-fiction.
Phenomena with no definitive answers.
The Uncanny, peculiar, fascinating, and intriguing.
Unusual things like giants, dragons, mega-fauna, extra-terrestrial life, mythical creatures, fallen Gods, mysterious archaeological finds, magic rocks, lost civilisations like Lemuria.
Systems of knowledge in the form of panpsychism, pataphysics, exo-politics.
Puppetry, like Jim Henson for example. Where puppetry would be without his imagination is beyond comprehension!
I always think I would be a good investigative journalist. Discerning truths from untruths; piecing together pieces of unsolved crimes; looking for gaps in the evidence. However, through the readings of Wai (2014) this aspect of curiosity is ‘puzzle solving’. Wai (2014) draws a distinction between puzzles and mysteries arguing puzzles, once answered no longer pose a question whereas mysteries, having no definitive answer outside context, always remain questions.
Puzzles have definite answers…Once the missing information is found, it’s not a puzzle anymore. The frustration you felt when you were searching for the answer is replaced by satisfaction…Mysteries are murkier, less neat. They pose questions that can’t be answered definitively, because the answers often depend on a highly complex and interrelated set of factors, both known and unknown. Leslie in Wai. (2014).
I think I am a sucker for wormhole thinking but can easily get stuck in the divergent thinking pattern. Wanting to know everything about everything, can lead to discovery fatigue; feeling exhausted before you have even began writing or creating. Similar to the ‘optimal experience’ there is a certain feedback loop that becomes self-rewarding in and of itself. I think giving myself some space from the computer during this ‘incubation period’ could be a strategy in maintaining curiosity over the following weeks. Maybe read some fiction off the bookshelf, try out a new wine yeast, or watch the new Dexter!
Atherton, M. (2018). A coveted possession: The rise and fall of the piano in Australia. La Trobe University Press
Ells, P. (2011) Panpsychism: The Philosophy of the Sensuous Cosmos. O Books
Pascoe, B. (2018). Dark Emu. Scribe Publications.
Popova, M. The Pattern Inside the Pattern: Fractals, the Hidden Order Beneath Chaos, and the Story of the Refugee Who Revolutionized the Mathematics of Reality. The Marginalian.
Popova, M. Drawing a Tree: Uncommon Vintage Italian Meditation on the Existential Poetics of Diversity and Resilience Through the Art and Science of Trees.’ The Marginalian
Popova, M. Trees at Night: Stunning Rorschach Silhouettes from the 1920s. The Marginalian
Popova. Decade-Long Photographic Masterpiece at the Intersection of Art, Science, and Philosophy. The Marginalian. https://www.themarginalian.org/2014/04/14/the-oldest-living-things-in-the-world-rachel-sussman-book/
Rozsa, M. (2021, July 23). Panpsychism, the idea that inanimate objects have consciousness, gains steam in science communities. Salon.Com. https://www.salon.com/2021/07/23/panpsychism-the-idea-that-inanimate-objects-have-consciousness-gains-steam-in-science-communities/?fbclid=IwAR0yZnz564ZyFryi96lGy8UmafF5-MYWfxJT3iM-3qTLE4yr9ZMT0mmc4T0
Wai, J. (Aug 14, 2014). 7 Ways to Inspire Your Curiosity. The Creativity Post.
Wohlleben, P. (2018) The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. Williams Collins