• Robert Riter

Forests Experienced, Remembered, Represented, and Read

Forests operate as sites of memory. Viewed as records, in their natural forms, forests reflect complex sets of ecological, economic, political, developmental, and environmental actions. Their characters and forms, and presence and absence, often reflect human values, actions, and treatments.

Records of forests also come to exist in the minds of others. Forests can become sites for recall and regret; they are experienced, remembered, and mourned. The interactions of individuals leave inscriptions on their environments, and these environments leave inscriptions within the minds of individuals.

These engagements are often expressed in tangible forms, through acts of representing forests and experiences of forests. In this brief note I offer comment on the theme of forests, memory, representation, and remembrance. This theme is introduced through two creative works: Kerri Harding’s book art Roots and Chris Davenport’s ongoing documentary project (photographs and written narrative), The Annotated Bibliography of Clearcutting.[1]

Harding’s book is a meditation on Ohio plants, spurred by her relocation to Alabama, and her unfamiliarity with Alabama plants. The elements of Ohio forests become mechanisms for memory, remembering, and consideration of place. Davenport’s work is “an ongoing interdisciplinary forest habitat and natural resource focused ecological database of world wide clearcutting and deforestation.”[2] Davenport’s work positions the forest as a record. His work documents human actions that permanently alter landscapes and habitats, recording threatened forests. Through documenting forests, Davenport also captures the contemporary actions, actors, and contexts that threaten forests; the forest recorded becomes a critical societal record.

Harding and Davenport offer two distinct experiences. Harding’s book makes the connection between ecology, memory, and rootedness.[3] Harding prints images of Ohio trees, flowers, and shrubs, which present views of the entire plants, including their root systems. In certain images only the roots are represented, placing emphasis on Harding’s theme of rootedness. In describing the book, Harding writes, “I was feeling homesick for Ohio and was dismayed that I don't at all understand the planting season in Alabama. I was getting ready to start my garden, but realized that I was already too late for many plants. The plants in Roots are common through out Ohio.”[4] The ecology Harding represents, formed from her experience and memory, becomes a site for remembrance. In representing this environment in her work, others can read Ohio ecology, and the relationships that Harding presents.

Davenport’s representation is quite different in its intention. The Annotated Bibliography of Clearcutting is a record of decay. Clearcutting is the “felling and removal of all trees from a given tract of forest.”[5] Clearcutting can “destroy an area’s ecological integrity,” and is “an ecological trauma that has no precedent in nature except for a major volcanic eruption.”[6] Clearcut: Volume I of The Annotated Bibliography of Clearcutting records, primarily through photography, this activity in the Talladega National Forest, a body located in Southwestern Alabama, and associated forest reclamation projects.[7] Davenport documents empty spaces of land, tree stumps, and fallen trees. These spaces are juxtaposed with areas of dense forest, drawing attention to what Davenport describes as “forest fragmentation.”[8] Davenport’s records of erasure offer representations of threatened forests, and a context for considering specific geographies, ecologies, and human actions.

From their engagement with forests, Harding and Davenport create representations that record their experiences, perceptions, and individuals readings of environment. Readers engage with their individual narratives, but also the printed, photographed, and communicated geographies. As with forests themselves, these representations also act as memory devices, preserving experiences, and aspects of forests and environments that Harding and Davenport experienced, remembered, and engaged.

[1] Kerri Harding, Roots (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Little Ledo Press, 2009); Christopher Davenport, “Clearcut: Volume 1 of The Annotated Bibliography of Clearcutting,” Textshop Experiments 2 (2006). http://textshopexperiments.org/textshop02/annotated-bibliography-of-clearcutting.

[2] Davenport, “Clearcut.”

[3] Harding, Roots, [pull-out image].

[4] Quotation from artist’s statement contained in catalog entry. Vamp & Tramp, Booksellers, LLC. April 2012 Catalog (April 2012).

[5] Davenport, “Clearcut.”

[6] Davenport, “Clearcut.”

[7] Davenport, “Clearcut.”

[8] Crane Giamo, “Christopher Davenport and Clearcutting Alabama,” This Book is Now (blog), J. Willard Marriott Library (The University of Utah), January 19, 2017, https://thisbookisnow.lib.utah.edu/christopher-davenport-clearcutting-alabama/