Photo of forest, where microvolt electronic sensors are attached to a tree

The Weep of Trees

The Weep of Trees is an art project by Band of Weeds dealing with stress reaction of trees. It is based on the poem called The Weep of a Birch Tree in the Kalevala. The sage Väinämöinen listens to the birch’s complaint about how people treat it badly. At the end of the poem, Väinämöinen fells the birch and makes a new kantele out of it for himself. The first one, made of pike’s jaw, sank to the bottom of the sea while Väinämöinen was fighting against Louhi, the queen of Pohjola.

Researcher Matthew Hall uses the poem The Weep of a Birch Tree as one example of the animistic plant relationship of Finns in the pre-Christian period, in which plants are understood as active subjects and persons. Actually, the poem was written by Lönnrot himself, the collector and editor of the Kalevala. He wrote the article sharing his own personal opinion on how contemporaries treated the forest and its trees, and published it in the newspaper 1850’s.

According to him, the Finns were the enemies of the forest, because the boys already hit the trees with their axes for fun. Workers, travellers, and shepherds ignited forest fires through their carelessness. Shingles and tinders were torn so that the tops of the trees were left to rot and destroy new vegetation. By absurd rinsing, the forests were destroyed.

The Weep of Trees is a modern version of The Weep of a Birch Tree. Unlike Lönnrot’s version, where Väinämöinen has to fell a birch to make a kantele (ie a musical instrument), in The Weep of Trees, the tree does not have to be felled to make it a musical instrument. With the help of current technology, the reactions of trees, for example stress, can be measured with various devices. These measurements can be converted into audible sounds in the human ear.

The Weep of Trees utilizes the monitoring data of the Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station on the stress reactions of living trees for felling the proximate trees. The emission of VOC particles in trees before and after thinning have been used in the work. Additionally, stress clicks on tree trunks, variations in sap flows and the jarring pecking of three-toed woodpecker are sonified and used in the artwork.

The Weep of Trees is part of the Climate Whirl Arts Program at INAR (Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research) at University of Helsinki and developed in collaboration with Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station.