The Forest takes us to The Forest
A reflection of a work, read through two essays by Anders Olsson

In June 2012 I visit the dance venue Weld in Stockholm to take part in The Forest takes us to The Forest, a spatial displacement arranged by Johan Forsman and Johan Rödström. I enter Weld; first through the hallway into the combined office/lobby, then into the big open studio, down the stairs to some 20 chairs placed in rows on the floor. The row of chairs is interupted by empty spaces; the first impression of randomness is gradually replaced by a feeling of absence, the gaps – the space between the chairs – are volumes for something simultaneously existent and non-existent.
Before we take our places in the rows of chairs we are given noice-cancelling headphones. The surrounding environment as ”reality” and ”nature” disappears, all that remains is subjectivity as time and space.

It is possible, as shown by Robert Zimmerman, to detect artificial ruins in European culture as far back as the Middle Ages. (…) In the 18th century interest of artificial ruins (…) exists a phenomenon that remarkably separates it from earlier periods. If Renaissance princes strived to focus on the difference between nature and culture, then pre-Romanticism did the opposite The ruin becomes a part of the landscape, and the artificial fragment follows an ambition to make the passage between nature and culture invisible. (…)
To create ruins is to re-construct history.

In the headphones a female voice starts talking – Anna. She describes the space I am in – Weld. The voice discusses the space that Anna over six years has created, or maybe rather the space that during this time has created her. A subject, a time, a space. Anna talks about her relation to the space; what music the space likes; the routines she shares with the space; the relation to the space´s neighbours. To describe a space through your Self as the subject that has simultaneously influenced and been influenced by this space. The voice in the headphones fixates the space in time through its interpretation of the space; of the subjectivity of the object.
At the same time the voice fixates this studio-space in me, the space as object is connected to me through the subject of the voice; when we after a while are guided out from the space, out to the ”reality” on Norrtullsgatan and – still accompanied by Anna´s observations of Weld – enter the bus waiting for us, then it is my body that is traveling. My senses partly remain at Weld, or maybe rather Weld and I are traveling together.

How can I seize something (…) that does not lend itself to perception or determination by our consciousness? (…) The notion best associating the serie of figures, thematic and syntactic transformations, that inscribes time in Novalis´ work, is probably the passage. (…)
Novalis seems to perceive the facticity of the environment and history as solidified time (…); for him the spatial category itself can be reduced to elapsed time. (…) ”All object is something that has flown – and the subject is something floating”.
The way out for Novalis becomes to find a way to not materialize time, to find the crack allowing us to make the leap away from all fixations.

We´re sitting in the bus, travelling along Sveavägen in Stockholm City; simultaneously together and detached, simultaneously remaining at Weld and on our way to something unknown.
Anna is still describing the space we have left and simultaneously remain in; why she hasn´t wanted to give the space a sign spelling out its name. Together with the voice a soundscape is ringing; simultaneously music and space. The bus is driving out of the city at Norrtull and heading further north along the E4 highway.
Somewhere between suburban Ulriksdal and Helenelund the words in the headphone run out. The voice becomes silent and is replaced by a Nothing. But the music that is space still is there. As is the movement along the highway – exits to Kista, Akalla, Sollentuna. Waiting, interruption. Emptiness.

In ”Teplitzer Fragmente” the life task is compared to a cult of fire, to the nurturing of a double vestal flame – we serve the forces that stand for recreation and decay. (…)
If the passage can be described as the eternity of the moment, which for Novalis is connected to lust, it is simultaneously obvious that no one can avoid perceiving the periodicity of life – or lust. (…) The infinite lust of the moment is passing and must be caught over and over again.(...) Life upon earth appears as ”a cavity” that is passed in the moment, only to simultaneously deepen to a grave. Happiness is in league with death and a total metamorphosis.

A personal detail: the further I travel towards the goal that stays unknown to me, the more familiar the surroundings are becoming. Sollentuna county, I am from here; Töjnan and Tureberg, all the places are simultaneously well known and distant – environments and places I´ve learnt to know in detail during the timelessness so specific for the period we call childhood, only to later subside and disappear into the chronology that gradually transforms experience to memory once time eventually gets its grip on life.
The bus turns off at the Häggvik exit; follows the viaduct under the highway and continues its way to the Järva nature reserve.

Imagination is an ability that hovers between determination och non-determination, between finite and infinite. (…) Reason doesn´t know any time, for time all is simultaneity, only for the imagination can the threshold between I and Not-I be extended into the shape of imaginary and facing time as moment.
The imagination however cannot keep its imaginary for more than an instant except in the experience of the sublime, which Fichte describes as an amazement, a freezing of the passage between I and Not-I.

The bus trip is – as the the voice in the headphones has stopped and all that remains is a composed silence and the waiting for an arrival – a re-enactment of the journey on the trolley in the movie Stalker: a small company is travelling, for different reasons and led by different dreams, through a landscape that doesn´t reveal its true content.
Also, as the bus stops and we are let out at the roadside in the forest, the parallell to the journey of the three men is appearant; the aim of the journey is seemingly just as random, or perhaps rather chosen with a certain insecurity. The bus takes off and leaves us standing slightly gawkily; our guide disappears among the trees, only to soon reappear and without much authority confirm that yes, we have now arrived at our destination. But why exactly this is the ”destination” somehow appears to be just as unclear for our guide as it is to us, his travelers.
Maybe it is exactly because of this seemingly randomness that what happens in The Forest, into which we have actually hardly entered – if my sense of orientation works we should be close to the terrace house neighborhood of Visby, where I during half of the 1970´s passed every morning with bus 520 on my way to school; in other words barely even in the outskirts of the Järva nature reserve, still closer to culture than nature – anyway, maybe it is exactly because of the fact that the location where we enter the Forest could have been whatever grove out of sight of human construction that what takes place here, just as in Stalker, is experienced as some sort of miracle.

”Only the incomplete can be apprehended – can take us further. The complete can only be savoured.” (Novalis)

What defines a Forest? The number of trees, the density, or the distance to civilization? What defines a Space? Its architecture, its use or its position?
We take off the headphones and leave the road; we pass the threshold – it´s called the fringe of the forest, right? – and start walking into the Forest. The sensation of nature naturally in itself is a construction; the number of trees that have been allowed to remain and grow appropriately large to give the impression of virgin forest is carefully calculated and selected by a municipal surveyor. Yet what my perception tells me is that we are leaving one world and entering another. We aren´t walking far, only just as far as it takes to no longer be able to see the gravel road – exactly as we´ve been traveling just as far as was needed to no longer hear other sounds than those belonging to The Forest. So now the electronic ambient soundscape of the headphones gradually is exchanged by birds and cracking branches as we move on between the trees until we, almost disappointingly quickly, arrive at the destination.
Until this point I've been thinking that it is The Forest in itself that is the aim of the journey; that we are leaving the space Weld in order to arrive to the space The Forest. This is in one sense correct, and at the same time not at all.
In German Romanticism, the ruin is celebrated as idea and function; the fragment as architecture, the object that demands activity and imagination to emerge – existing simultaneously as archaeology and science fiction, the ruin constitutes an interface between no-longer and not-yet. The remains of something that has gradually ceased to be in our imaginary takes virtual shape as ”an-other space”. Thus the palace becomes meaningful, or rather enabled to have meaning filled into it, only when it has undergone a metamorphosis and been resurrected as Ruin; an incomplete object, characterized by its voids and empty spaces, that offers itself as a screen onto which observers can project their imagination.
In the grove where we have arrived stands something that in reality is a very concrete object. It is a skeleton-like construction, based on the measurements of the space Weld. The material is the thin, beige plastic tubes used for electric cables in walls. The transparent object represents with accuracy the architecture of Weld as a full scale, three dimensional model – a slender and lanky alien, both fragile and robust, in the borderland between vehicle and organism; five to six metres tall, with its thin plastic tubes like overgrown spider legs, supported by a net of threads. Everything is here – walls, the kitchen, stairs, WC – but as a spatial scetch. The row of chairs we were sitting in before we began our journey is also here, but the empty spaces are now filled out by roots, bushes and other parts of ”nature”.

In order to fully comprehend Novalis´ solution to the problem of transition, it is impossible to ignore his early readings of Fichte´s ”Wissenschaftlehre” (1794). (…)
Fichte taught that the self can determine itself only by its negation, what he calls the Not-I. I and Not-I alternately detemine each other. In the same way, time cannot be determined without its opposite. To speak with Novalis: ”The present doesn´t lend itself to fixation. It is what comes before or after that determines or relates the present moment”. The question appears, what force is able to connect I and Not-I, time and memory, with each other. (…) In The Knowledge of Science Fichte admits that there must exist a force that doesn´t, like reason, divide the world in opposites, but freely floats between them. This force is the imagination.

This is the miracle: the space Weld dies and is resurrected in front of my gaze in one oscillating movement. The ruin as inversion – a bicephalous fragment, floating in a simultaneity inbetween that what no longer is and not yet has taken shape, not really here (The Forest) but still not there (Weld).
We enter and take our seats in the skeleton; most of us choose the same place we sat in Weld, perhaps not everyone, I don´t really remember. We are offered a glass of freshly squeezed lingonberry juice (or was it blueberry?), and then for 20 minutes we observe trees, moss, scents, bird song and, if I pay close enough attention, the sound of beetles crawling around my feet. Weld is resurrectet as venue, but now with The Forest as staged silence and contemplation, nature and culture as one.
A moment later the bus returns down at the road. We go back ”home”.

The quotes are from two texts by Anders Olsson:
”Novalis och Övergången” published in Kris, no. 36-37 (1988) &
”Skillnadens Konst, Sex kapitel om moderna fragment” (2006)

Anders Paulin, 2012