BlogVIRUS 2020

17 June VIRUS 2020

17 June, VIRUS 2020

Nambucca forest activists take their case to NSW Parliament. Local protesters will converge outside NSW Parliament on Wednesday. Coffs Coast Advocate

Pandemics result from destruction of nature, say UN and WHO. The Guardian

Culture warriors obsessed with statues ignore Rio Tinto’s vandalism of Indigenous heritage. The Guardian

Covid-19 outbreaks in New Zealand and China highlight stark choices. To stay coronavirus free, countries face unsustainable social and economic losses. The Guardian

A $1.1m hospital bill after surviving the coronavirus? That’s America for you. The Guardian

Flushing the toilet may fling virus aerosols everywhere. SMH

Shenhua coal mine questioned over ‘disturbing’ water report omissions. SMH

New Covid-19 outbreak spreads beyond Beijing. Entire city under soft lockdown and outbound travel tightened to try to contain surge in coronavirus infections. CNN

If we think we know what it is to be locked down, just imagine, if you can, being locked down in a refugee camp. Unable to go home, even if it was safe to do so. Unable to move on to start to build a new life somewhere else. Cathannebl blog[1]

Miilba (Deep Creek) with Old Man’s Hat
Banksias dominate the dunes

We went for a walk, partly to check out the new wader signs further upstream, and I had trees in mind.

Continuing Art and Trees (from June 15 post)

Joseph Beuys, ‘7000 Oak Trees’, 1982

For documenta 7, Beuys proposed a plan to plant 7000 oaks throughout the city of Kassel, each paired with a basalt stone. On March 16th 1982, several months prior to the opening of documenta, Beuys planted the first tree. 7,000 stones were piled on the lawn in front of the Museum Fridericianum ready to be placed.

I believe that planting these oaks is necessary not only in biospheric terms, that is to say, in the context of matter and ecology, but in that it will raise ecological consciousness-raise it increasingly, in the course of the years to come, because we shall never stop planting. [2]

Planting site proposals were submitted by residents, neighbourhood councils, schools, etc. The result, according to Norbert Scholtz, offered significant opportunities for ‘occupying and utilizing ‘public’ open space socially.’[3] Matthew Gandy notes that, ‘With 7,000 Oaks, Beuys had not only addressed contemporary ecological anxieties but had also tapped into nationalistic conceptions of German heritage as a wooded landscape.’[4]

This led the artist to coin the term ‘social sculpture’ to describes the process of collaboration between artists and citizens to create environmental artworks beneficial to the community. The project took five years to complete and has spread to other cities around the world. The city looks after these oaks. In the late 1970s, Beuys became a cofounder of the German Greens and stood unsuccessfully for the European Parliament. In 1979 he had his first major international retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, New York

Thus, 7000 Oaks is a sculpture referring to peoples’ life, to their everyday work. That is my concept of art which I call the extended concept or art of the social sculpture.[5]

I wish to go more and more outside to be among the problems of nature and problems of human beings in their working places . . .  I wished to go completely outside and to make a symbolic start for my enterprise of regenerating the life of humankind within the body of society and to prepare a positive future in this context. I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heartwood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet. [6]

Majesty 2006 Tacita Dean born 1965 Presented by Tate Members 2008

Dean took a photograph of one of the largest and oldest complete oak trees in England (Kent), enlarged it on four overlapping sections to over three and a half metres wide, printed of fibre-based paper. She overpainted with white gouache the surroundings focusing the image on the gnarled trunk and branches. The title is the name of the tree, an ugly beast, but that’s the ageing process.

Dean has emphasised the formal qualities of the tree, reminding me of Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi’s, The Architecture of Trees, designed to help architects, landscape gardeners and designers. Cavani and Orsini argue that drawing enabled Cesare Leonardi to isolate the tree from its surroundings, focus on its architectural elements, and clearly depict the features that make a species unique.[7]


Survivor sole, and hardly such, of all
That once lived here, thy brethren, at my birth
(Since which I number threescore winters past,)
A shattered veteran, hollow-trunked perhaps
As now, and with excoriate forks deform,
Relicts of ages! Could a mind imbued
With truth from Heaven created thing adore,
I might with reverence kneel and worship thee.
It seems idolatry with some excuse
When our forefather druids in their oaks
Imagined sanctity . . .
William Cowper, ‘Yardley Oak’ (1791)

In July 1785 a local landowner felled trees, removed scrub, and re-organized as an orderly plantation a wood near Olney through which had run one of the poet William Cowper’s favourite walks. He mourned its loss as a living sanctuary:

I will never enter it again. We have both pray’d in it. You for me, and I for you, but it is desecrated from this time forth, and the voice of pray’r will be heard in it no more. The fate of it in this respect, however deplorable is not peculiar; the spot where Jacob anointed his pillar, and which is more apposite, the spot once honoured with the presence of Him who dwelt in the bush, have long since suffer’d similar disgrace, and are become common ground.  [8]

Early Sunday morning we asked a group of joggers in the village for directions to Cowper’s alcove where he wrote so many of his poems. Walking up the lane we could hear Skylarks, a Blackcap and Blackbirds. We spot a squirrel disappearing through a hole in the roof of a small pergola and wondered if this was the alcove. It was behind a high wall so we continued and glimpsed his poetic base it further up, the backend of a field, a pale smile with a pair of Doric columns and hipped slate roof.

I marvelled at the Skylarks, brown ball hovering like  tiny drones, we can hear a pheasant, the cooing of Woodpigeons and a relentless Chiffchaff. Since I lived in this country Skylarks have declined with modern farming practices. I wonder what has changed, these large fields would have been smaller, with hedgerows. The large windmills turning the skyline, the huge fields, the lime tree avenue, cut down in World War One for coffins. We sit on the wooden bench along the wall, the view leads down a Lime tree avenue towards an overgrown patch called the Wilderness within the grounds of Weston Park, the Throckmorton estate.

Mix of native and exotics (pines are a serious weed here)

Whenever trees can be turned to profit, they are commonly cut down long before they attain picturesque perfection. The beauty of almost every species of tree increases after its prime; and unless it have the good fortune to stand in some place of difficult access, or under the protection of some patron whose mansion it adorns, we rarely see it in that grandeur and dignity which it would acquire by age. William Gilpin[9] 

Gilpin is much maligned for his championing of the picturesque which originated from a visit to the landscape garden of Stowe (1740s) and seeing landscape in terms of a series of views. He published seven works on the picturesque between 1782-1804. – but he also  popularised plein air sketching from nature – and people did appreciate nature much more thanks to him. He loved old trees. For example, his Forest Survey divides genres of tree, mentions individual tress and oaks with actual names. Gilpin was interested in the visual potential of oak trees not their ecology of oaks.

A plate ‘Oak tree Gardens’ by the Austrian botanist and director of Vienna’s botanic gardens Anton Kerner von Marilaun unusually showed the tree in its natural environment without isolating it as botanic specimen drawings.[10] It showed the need to study ecology, the natural habits and habitat of plants.Gilpin saw trees as the ‘foundations of scenery’ and noted that trees have a history, ‘they record the history of some storm, some blast of lightning, or other great event.’ He expressed admiration for ‘trees that are odd, picturesque from injuries or disease’ and the ‘vegetable violence’ of an ash invading a decaying willow. Keith Thomas comments that, ‘In the later 18th C many artists began to specialize in portraits of trees.’ [11]

On the way down we chat to a dog walker who claims the other summerhouse the squirrel squatted was also a Cowper retreat, I am dubious. He tells us Cowper lived in the Georgian house two down from the pub, Cowper’s Oak. I ask what the original alcove was like, he said he thought where we were was the original. It looked too grand for me, having been inside his den in Olney, but later learnt it was grand, being the summerhouse of Sir Robert Throckmorton.

A pair of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos flying over Miilba

The Wilderness area became part of Flamingo Gardens and Zoological Park opened circa 1960 by a Christopher Marler. It contained all kinds of animals from Giraffes to Kangaroos, is now closed. He now lives down the road and still keeps birds, vultures especially (White-headed, Palmnut, Hooded, Yellow-headed Vultures and Ruppell’s Griffon). Someone suggested we may see a roo bouncing around the background.

Pied Stilts, Miilba

The bawks and Eddings are no more
The pastures too are gone
the greens the Meadows and the Moors
ae all cut up and done

There’s scarce a greensward spot remains
and scares a single tree. . .
John Clare, ‘The Lamentations of Round-Oak Waters’ (1818).[12]

John Clare’s’ grave

I went on a pilgrimage to John Clare’s Helpston. ‘As we turn off the A Road for Helpston disappointment rolls in like mist over flat boring agricultural lands sinking beneath a low bruised sky. This horizon has no inkling of Civil War butchery or Homeric tank manoeuvres. Crimson poppies conga colour through the ditches, so this may yet be a remembrance day.’

As George Monbiot puts it, ‘The land around Helpston, just to the north of Peterborough in Northamptonshire, now ranks among the most dismal and regularised tracts of countryside in Europe. But when the poet John Clare was born this coming Friday in 1793, it swarmed with life.’[13] When Clare was 16, Parliament passed an Act for the Enclosure of Helpston and neighbouring parishes. ‘Between 1809 and 1820, acts of enclosure granted the local landowners permission to fence the fields, the heaths and woods, excluding the people who had worked and played in them. Almost everything Clare loved was torn away. The ancient trees were felled, the scrub and furze were cleared, the rivers were canalised, the marshes drained, the natural curves of the land straightened and squared.’

Clare was so distressed he eventually became mad and spent his last 27 years (apart from 5 months absconded) mostly incoherent in two asylums.


John Fowles recalls being inside Wistman’s Wood, a remnant oak forest on Dartmoor, and finding himself incoherent: ‘Fairy-like, self-involved, rich in secrets … such inturned peace, such profound harmlessness, otherness, such unusing … all words miss, I know I cannot describe it.’[14]


Andy Goldsworthy studied Bradford College of Art then Preston Polytechnic, and in his 1976 performance ‘Black Sand’ at nearby, Morecambe Bay, he dragged himself through sea water and sand with deliberate reference to ‘Bog Action’ by Joseph Beuys of five years earlier. Beuys wanted to draw attention to wetlands threatened by land reclamation along the Zuiderzee in The Netherlands.[15]

Rainbow Lorikeet in nest

Goldsworthy uses trees in all sorts of ways:

For The capenoche tree, Dumfriesshire (Stone, wood, water, BBC film 1998) Goldsworthy uses the mud of the field to create a new sculpture at the foot of an ancient oak tree.

For ‘Garden of Stones’ (Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York, 2003) he hollowed out granite boulders and planted trees inside.

For ‘Hanging Trees’ (Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2006) he walled in upper sections of oak trees, they are floating but trapped, and I have seen the wood over ten years or so slowly erode. Much of his work is ephemeral.

For ‘Sycamore leaves edging the roots of a sycamore tree, (Hampshire, 1 November 2013)’, he arranged leaves to make the base of the tree glow.

‘Climbed into rotten hollow. At the base of a sycamore tree. Just enough room in which to turn. And crawl back out. After which, I worked the edge with mud. To make a black hole.’ (Yorkshire Sculpture Park. September 1983).

For ‘Leaning into the Wind’ he climbed up: ‘Laid across oak boughs to make shadows on the ground below. (Dumfriesshire, Scotland, 19 April 2014)’.


Cathy Fitzgerald uses trees, but her eco-social art practice abandons the autonomous artwork. She creates a healthy living forest with community involvement (as Beuys did).

Effective ecological art practices are characterised by long-term creative engagement with communities and environments to foster understanding of local eco-social wellbeing. These practices appear seemingly diverse because they involve complex constellations of art and non-art activity; thus, they are radically distinct from modernist artworks that may refer to environmental, nature or landscape themes.[16]

Like social art practice, eco-social art practice abandons the autonomous artwork that avoids engaging with social or political concerns and readily seeks collaboration and connection. [17]

I have since created an open-ended, art-forest project within and with the forest, and with foresters, the local community and politicians, that is revealing new understandings in contemporary transversal practices, ecological science and forest policy.[18]

Hollywood Forest is having all kinds of problems, but surviving better than a monocultural one would. She says. ‘For us living here within Hollywood forest, learning, listening, and watching out for Hollywood forest’s future thriving by adopting holistic, integrated continuous cover forestry practices–that supports our thriving too–are small steps toward practising an ecology of mind that will be a life’s work–a practical philosophy that results in a little more wisdom, increasing love for the living world and more beauty and birdsong each year.’[19]

Cathy Fitzgerald’s work is ethically, emotionally and aesthetically opposite to Antti Laitinen’s Forest Square (15 June post). Land Art is rarely ecological art.


‘Once a tree is planted, it begins to mean something.’ Roger McDonald [20]

Paul Carter quotes a colonial source, ‘For each variety of gum-tree and wattle tree, etc., they had a name, but they had no equivalent for the expression ‘a tree’.’[21]

The forest next to us begins on higher ground with Blackbutt and Pink Bloodwood (, an important ceremonial tree for Gumbaynggirr men. The red keno was used to heal wounds and as a glue for axe heads. A Bloodwood song sung by Clarence Skinner begins, ‘The bloodwood flowers rain down’.

This old bloodwood was starting to grow when Henry the VIII was fighting in France and Anthony Fitzherbert published The Boke of Surveyinge and Improvements and The Boke of Husbandrie (the first work on agriculture to be published in England).

500 year old Pink Bloodwood, Coffs Creek

Trees are ‘the fifth element’ inhabiting a different time scale; hollows needed by parrots, possums and gliders take a human lifetime to form. Trees release seed over a century or more and will sow our future one way or another.

All day thought boomeranging back to the Land and Environment Court hearing and how legislation has developed so badly to deal with the really important issues.


[2] Lynne Cooke 7000 Oaks

[3] Norbert Scholz, “Joseph Beuys-7000 Oaks in Kassel,” Anthos (Switzerland), no. 3 (1986), p34.

[4] Matthew Gandy, ‘Contradictory Modernities: Conceptions of Nature in the Art of Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 87, No. 4, Dec. 1997. ‘Running through Beuys’s work we find a constant tension between nature and reason: nature is used time and again as a bulwark against Enlightenment rationality. His fusion of radical ecologism and postmodern aesthetics is not only predicated on the blurring of boundaries between high art and popular culture but also lacks any meaningful distinction between humankind and the rest of nature.’

[5] Norbert Scholz, “Joseph Beuys-7000 Oaks in Kassel,” Anthos (Switzerland), no. 3 (1986), p32.

[6] Richard Demarco, “Conversations with Artists” Studio International 195, no. 996 (September 1982), 46

[7] Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi, The Architecture of Trees, 1982. They were Italian furniture, landscape, and architectural designers. Andrea Cavani and Guilio Orsi introduction to the new edition The Architecture of Trees, Princeton Architectural Press. The Dirt, Over time, Leonardi found that climate, exposure, and soil conditions impacted the growth rate and character of specimens, so he accommodated for those differences, too.

[8] The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper, ed,. James King and Charles Ryskamp, 5 vols, Oxford, 1979-86, II, p362-63.

[9] William Gilpin, Remarks on Forest Scenery, 1791, I.

[10] von Marilaun, famous in Europe, published The Natural History of Plants (title in English translation) in two vols, 1887, 1891.

[11] Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing attitudes in England 1500-1800, Allen Lane, 1983.

[12] Bawk, a strip of grass dividing ploughed fields; Edding, a green margin at the end of fields.

[13] George Monbiot, ‘John Clare the poet of the environmental crisis – 200 years ago’, The Guardian,10 July, 2012.

[14] John Fowles, The Tree (1979), Harper Collins, 2010.

[15] Helen Phelby, ‘Layered Land: Andy Goldsworthy at Yorkshire Sculpture Park’, Art & Environment, TATE PAPERS, 2012.

[16] Cathy Fitzgerald, The Ecological Turn: Living Well with Forests  To Articulate Eco-Social Art Practices  Using a Guattari Ecosophy and Action Research Framework’, Submitted for the Visual Culture PhD by Practice. The National College of Art and Design, Ireland, 2018, p28.

[17] Cathy Fitzgerald, 2018, p29. In 2013 she launched the Irish Green Party Forest policy. Its key point is something she argued for – abandon clearfell, monoculture plantations for ‘Close-to-Nature’ continuous cover forestry.

[18] Cathy Fitzgerald,

[19] ‘This transversal project draws on skills, interests and contacts that I had developed from working in different areas in my working career; biological science, visual culture, experimental film-making, forestry, Green politics, web design and social media.’ Cathy Fitzgerald, ‘The Hollywood Forest Story – eco-social art practice for the Symbiocene’, Minding Nature 12:3.

[20] Roger McDonald, The Tree in Changing Light, Knopf, 2011.

[21] Paul Carter, ‘Living in a New Country’, in Living in a New Country, Faber, 1992.

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