Tree Story brings together creative practices from around the world to create a ‘forest’ of ideas relating to critical environmental and sustainability issues. At its foundation—or roots—are Indigenous ways of knowing and a recognition of trees as our ancestors and family. The major international group exhibition and podcast will be accompanied by a reader, which connects tree stories across time and place.
Featuring varied contributions from thirty-three exhibiting artists and projects in a fully illustrated colour section—ranging from early 1970s environmental actions to studying plant communications—Tree Story will include newly commissioned and republished texts from artists, activists, ecologists, scholars, curators and authors that foreground First Nations’ knowledges, reflect on the rights and agency of trees, explore notions of cultural heritage, reveal knowledge of tree networks and consider loss in times of climate emergency.
Writing in the wake of the 2019 summer bushfires, Bundjalung and Wonnarua academic Vanessa I. Cavanagh explores relationships to trees and Country, drawing on her knowledge of cultural burning practices in Australia. Artist and barrister Nick Modrzewski presents a ficto-critical meeting of trees on the topic of legal personhood, and forest ecologist Suzanne Simard discusses the ‘wood-wide web’ and her work with elder trees and mycorrhizal networks in the forests of British Columbia. Artist and curator Madeline Collie considers colonial practices of terraforming and collective memorial processes in the face of species endangerment, and Gunditjmara Keerraay Woorroong Djab Wurrung woman Sissy Eileen Austin responds to the recent and tragic loss of a directions tree on Djab Wurrung Country. A yarn between artists and academics Brook Garru Andrew and Brian Martin reflects on Indigenous approaches to trees and culture, and author Sophie Cunningham brings us into more intimate and intuitive relation to trees through the lens of her Instagram account @sophtreeofday. Adding to this, several artists have contributed bilingual texts in English and Aboriginal languages.
Together, the diverse contributions in Tree Story pose the question: what can we learn from trees and the importance of Country?
Brook Garru Andrew, Sissy Eileen Austin, Vanessa I. Cavanagh, Madeleine Collie, Sophie Cunningham, Charlotte Day, Brian Martin, Nick Modrzewski, Suzanne Simard
Design: Stuart Geddes and Žiga Testen
Brook Garru Andrew (AU), Yto Barrada (FR/MA), Berdaguer & Péjus (FR), Joseph Beuys (DE), Tania Bruguera (CU), Hayley Panangka Coulthard (AU), Nici Cumpston (AU), Agnes Denes (HU/US), Yanni Florence (AU), Ceal Floyer (UK), Nicole Foreshew (AU), Henrik Håkansson (SE/DE), Beth Mbitjana Inkamala (AU), Judith Pungarta Inkamala (AU), Tim Johnson (AU), Reena Saini Kallat (IN), Peter Kennedy (AU), Olga Kisseleva (FR), Janet Laurence (AU), MAIX Reserved Forest (MY), Brian Martin (AU), Kent Morris (AU), Peter Mungkuri OAM (AU), Optronics Kinetics (AU), Uriel Orlow (CH/UK), Jill Orr (AU), Katie Paterson (UK), Ed Ruscha (US), Yasmin Smith (AU), Daniel Steegmann Mangrané (BR/ES), Stelarc (AU), Linda Tegg (AU) and The Tree School.
Charlotte Day is the director of Monash University Museum of Art. She has extensive curatorial and arts management experience having worked in contemporary art organisations including the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) and Gertrude Contemporary (all Melbourne), and as guest curator for the The Anne Landa Award (2013), Adelaide Biennial (2010), TarraWarra Biennial (2008) and Australian Pavilion for Venice Biennale (2005 and 2007).
Melissa Ratliff is Curator Research at Monash University Museum of Art. She has worked independently and institutionally on exhibition, public programming, publication and editorial projects, including at the Biennale of Sydney (2015–18), Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg (2013–14), dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel (2010–12) and the 16th and 17th Biennale of Sydney (2007–10).
Brook Garru Andrew is an artist and scholar of Wiradjuri, Ngunnawal and Celtic descent whose interdisciplinary practice explores the legacies of colonisation and modernism. The artistic director of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), his work has been exhibited widely in Australia and internationally since 1996, and he holds teaching and research positions with Monash University; University of Melbourne; the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford; and Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.
Sissy Eileen Austin is a Gunditjmara Keerraay Woorroong Djab Wurrung woman and former member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, a group which was established as the elected voice for Aboriginal people and communities towards Treaty discussions.
N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM is a Boon Wurrung senior elder and is the chairperson and founder of the Boon Wurrung Foundation. She has been involved in developing and supporting opportunities for Indigenous youth and Boon Wurrung culture for over fifty years.
Vanessa I. Cavanagh is a Bundjalung and Wonnarua woman from New South Wales who works in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities at the University of Wollongong as an Associate Lecturer. Her research engages with Aboriginal women and cultural burning in New South Wales, Australia, where she has over two decades of experience in environmental and heritage conservation management.
Madeleine Collie is an artist and curator based between Folkestone, UK, and Melbourne/Naarm, Australia. Her work takes the form of curatorial projects, institutional critique, pedagogy, performance and poetic practice. She is Curator and Director of Custom Food Lab. From 2016 to 2019, she was curator of the award-winning collective memorial project The Ash Project, Kent, UK.
Sophie Cunningham is the author or editor of seven books including City of Trees: Essays on Life, Death and the Need for a Forest; Fire, Flood, Plague: Writers Respond to 2020 and Melbourne. She is a former publisher and editor and is now an Adjunct Professor at RMIT University’s Non/fiction Lab.
Brian Martin is Monash University Art Design & Architecture’s inaugural Associate Dean, Indigenous. A descendant of the Bundjalung, Muruwari and Kamilaroi peoples, he has been a practising artist for thirty years and has exhibited both nationally and internationally in the mediums of painting and drawing. His research and practice focuses on refiguring Australian art and culture from an Indigenous ideological perspective based on a reciprocal relationship to ‘Country’.
Nick Modrzewski is an artist and barrister working in Melbourne. His writing has been published in Un magazine, The Lifted Brow, Fireflies, Canary Press, Voiceworks and The Research Handbook for Art and Law (forthcoming).
Suzanne Simard is a Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia who is known for her work on how trees interact and communicate using below-ground fungal networks. She is the founder of the British Columbia–based Mother Tree Project and author of Finding the Mother Tree (forthcoming).