green smoke in the trees with dappled sunlight

Smoke in the Trees II

Smoke in Trees from Active Ingredient on Vimeo.

The day before the ‘When the Future Comes’ event Matt Watkins, Caroline Locke and I went to the woods to film smoke in the trees as a follow on to the lab session we did earlier in the year at Primary Studios in Nottingham.

The wind took the smoke and moved it through the trees, catching the sunlight, creating eerie beautiful movement, dissolving the forest and then revealing it again, turning the forest into a fantastical place and then returning it once more to a place of sun dappled trees, leaves, insects and birds – and us humans.

Once the smoke was set off we had no control as the wind took charge. It blew away from us, around us, weaving in and out of the trees then suddenly huge billowing clouds, then slowly dispersing deeper in the forest and up high above the canopy.

This was a contentious and possibly dangerous, definately reckless thing to do.

At the same time in the North of England there were wildfires on the moors, we are currently in a drought. Fire and heat in a forest during a drought is dangerous.

The smoke is toxic, it is full of chemicals and suffocating for a human caught in it, never mind other animals and plants. It may leave residue. It takes time to disperse.

If we had been caught we could have been arrested (we decided not to seek permission and just try it out in a remote part of the woods). There were helicopters overhead, we waited for them to go before we set the smoke bombs off.

We attempted to film it with a drone and it was one step too far, we nearly broke the drone and decided it was too loud and enclosed.

I disturbed what we thought was a rare bird as I was walking off the path in the trees, it panicked and flew away.

A woman with a horse went by on the path, the horse was supposedly already frightened of humans but it was sniffing the air and clearly concerned.

I felt we did harm to one of my favourite places in England.

We also made a beautiful and poignant film, which spoke of this harm in ways that it is possibly otherwise impossible to describe.

Matt wrote:
There is something telling in the act. In that it is reckless and the act of doing it in a forest provokes those feelings of conflict, feelings that city dwellers don’t feel in cities when they drive cars, use computers and mobiles, let off fireworks, or burn fires in urban areas, yet we feel a kind of remorse when we do it in a semi natural setting, after driving our vehicles into them. Why is that? Our environment as a whole is under threat, urban and rural from climate change.
When making art that explores issues of climate change, what are we doing?
Are we proposing future utopias, are we scientists, engineers, politicians?
Are we provocateurs attempting to use art as a method of triggering change?
Are we reflecting the world back at itself?
Activists can protest for change. Engineers can build change. Politicians can legislate change. What do artists do?
I think the feelings it has stirred up are vital to an evolving viewpoint. I don’t know whether I would want to do it again yet.
Maybe we need to measure how wrong it is. What have we released into the wild…what were the chemicals, what agents are present in those fireworks. It would be interesting to know.