In the Deep Forest Art Land, situated in Jutland Denmark, you will learn something new about yourself in the meeting with art and nature
An interview elaborated by Carmen Line Hust
ARTICULATE Promote | March 2021
Deep Forest Art Land (DFAL) exists to give everyone access to unleash their own creative potential through the combination of art and the Central- and Western Jutland nature.
Deep Forest Art Land proceed on the theory that an interaction between art and nature can unleash our creative potential, make us more open and responsive, and thereby, make us able to engage in new challenges. In Deep Forest Art Land, you’ll learn something new about yourself in the meeting with art and nature. Deep Forest Art Land produces and mediates contemporary art, which can be difficult to decode from its point of departure. But in the combination of a high artistic level and artists who understand the special context offered by the space in the forest, a new type of community and dialogue is created, between the art and the diverse audience. In Deep Forest Art Land you’ll meet serious contemporary art in a new and unexpected way. We’ve had a talk with one of the founders Søren Taaning (b. 1964).
Søren Taaning, you’re an artist, and together with your Danish colleague René Schmidt (b. 1968) you’ve started The Deep Forest Art Land, or Skovsnogen (i.e. Forest Snake), back in 2010.
What is DFAL? And with what purpose did you take on a project of such dimensions?
DFAL has its point of departure in a place, a forest and an area; and the people, who were already there, and the people we expect will come. And then we took the potentiality of art as a starting point, and in particular the potentiality of the artist. The possibility to establish a new artistic space. It’s actually a bit bilateral, looking at an inland area. Earlier we were a country focusing on coast tourism and the coastlines in general. Actually, we find this inland area and its nature every bit as fantastic.
In the meeting between art and nature, on the moor, away from the sea, you mediate contemporary art in different ways than other art spaces and institutions.
What type of dialogue do you wish to enable between the arts, nature and the spectator?
We had this idea about art being elitist, in the sense that art is something created for a reduced audience. And that this perception is wrong, well that it’s simply untrue. If you tune in on Jes Brinch’s (b. 1966) piece HATE (2013), people would have laughed their heads off, should you claim this to be a great popular artwork in the midst of Jutland, 10 years ago. But if you search social media, you’ll find numerous posts of people photographed next to this piece and see how many, who, in a constitutional way, feel the artwork to be a bridge-builder, uniting us in spite of our differences. And that’s something that anybody can relate to and have an opinion about. And then, it’s in the midst of this piece of nature, playing with how nature is often accounted for, as something super romantic. If you Google the word nature, you’ll find all these light green and freshly leaved beeches. But nature can also be dramatic, and the forest floor swarms with all kinds of insects and beetles. To unfold the image and notion of what nature is, and to conclude that we too are a part of it.
The forest contains multiple spaces. Opposite the white cube, the forest is also the presence of a snail or rain. There are so many components, becoming part of the material you have to work with, as an artist, which also becomes part of what you have to interact with, as a spectator visiting the forest. It’s this multiplicity; then there’s a bird and then there’s an object made by an artist, and then it was raining. That’s fairly different from anything else.
Unlike visiting museums or other cultural institutions, the artworks in the forest are contemplated without any manual or any text, stating title, artistic background, material etcetera to guide the spectator.
How do you think the spectator decodes the pieces? And do you regard nature, as an active part of the interaction between the artwork and the spectator?
Well, nature is something for the artist to take into account. We’re actually in the process of making a pronounced art space out here, in order to have a space, which is more neutral, in which you can make art. Out in the forest, you can also work with the fact that you have a more direct interaction with the spectator, or visitor.
And the artists seem to have been lacking a space of such sort. Literally, there was some art pieces, who could not be made, simply because the space in which the artists could combine their artistic practices and simultaneously meet their audience didn’t exist. And THAT’S what we’ve created here, THAT’S what DFAL is all about. And it turned out that there were a lot of artists who had something on their minds as soon as that opportunity presented itself.
It’s sort of double sided, since many people had their difficulties decoding art in its traditional sense, but then this option presented itself and made it less dangerous and easier to relate to. It is a challenge to get a wider range of society into a traditional art space because of its many barriers, while nature… Actually, some people also have their difficulties being in and with nature, but with this combination, everybody wins.
What is nature used for? If you google [outdoor life], you’ll find many stereotype accessories and the attitude of being a 'user of nature'. You have a purpose, a functionality: you have to run, you need to do a lot of things, where the old-fashioned way of going into the woods just to be there is replaced: you need to bring a mountain bike if it should make any sense. DFAL is an antidote to that. Now you can just drop in. It has also become a space, where people do picnics or bring their lunch – a meeting point.
It is important to state that we are not a museum or an art gallery. In a museum or in a gallery, everything is saturated around the art piece, in the way they convey. DFAL is the crossing point of many meaningful aspects. We are the trip to the forest, but we’re also an exhibition, or something that presents art, and the lines defining one thing from the other is barely visible. A cultural family reunification. Where is the art piece in all of this? Where does it start and where (and when) does it end? Many of the artists who have been working out here, have created a space around the art, or the art became part of the space. Like the Gothic Shed (2012) of René Schmidt, which could be a monument, a sculpture, an arcade or a space where you can step inside the art piece and eat your lunch. A lunch house. Playing with the categories.
Another piece with difficulties defining its borders is Alter in the Woods from 2018, by the Danish artist Ole Tersløse (b. 1971). You are walking through the woods. Then you notice this fire and a face, looking out over the creek and field, activating your own gaze. What is this? Is it a witch on a fire? What is it made of? A lot of elements come into play.
We also have a sculptural cemetery, where art can die. Boiling it down, DFAL is a space of experiment, where one can scan and map boundaries, new possibilities and approaches to art.
The context offered by the forest has certain constraints, such as the season, wind and weather. Among others temporality and the deterioration of materials, as an important factor to operate with in the artistic process.
But how about your own creative process? – And the one of the entire project? Is it a life’s work to you?
Actually, we have concluded the opposite. It started as a project, in which we hadn’t considered its temporality. Now we’ve reached for the level of DFAL being a self-governing institution, meaning it will continue. Forever is possibly a bit far sighted, but for as long as we can imagine. Temporality is a tricky thing, making us see that perhaps something is destined to last a single summer, and making us realize when an art piece is outdated, due to the deterioration of its materials, in terms of durability.
That seem to open up new possibilities. If a piece only lasts for three years or three months, a new artist or a new curator has the opportunity to create new art works, within the framework presented?
We’re experimenting with the creation of delimited spaces in the forest, where you can work more with making an exhibition or a festival or something that is temporary. Where the art works are in dialogue, in contrast to the white cube. We want to maintain the sensation of being in nature, in the forest, and not a park of sculptures. This includes obstacles and constraints, in which we are very conscient. Let’s see what potential this format reveals on the long run. There’s something about working with time and space in a non-synchronic, rhizome kind of way. Giving the artist an unseen space of opportunity. Unlike the traditional exhibition, having a fixed opening date, the projects here are sometimes postponed due to unforeseen opportunities or perhaps an artist is working over a 10-year period and time becomes more abstract.
Søren, you have contributed with the art works Sejrsskammelbænk (e.i. Victory Stool Bench) (2011), Thoreau’s Hut* (2009) and the piece Lay Down and Look Up Bench. Common for your work is the act of interaction. You basically invite people to enter or step onto the pieces.
What does the physical and sensual interaction mean to you, while you created the pieces, and now where you’ve had 10 years to observe the imprints of the works both in the viewer but also in the forest?
By inviting people to interact physically and sensual with the art works you sort of make way to loosen up a bit for the potential that lies in art. When exhibiting in traditional spaces, people tend to be withdrawn and quiet, no matter what I do to make them interact (touch, climb etc.) with the art piece. On the other hand, out in the woods, you really use your body and all your senses when you encounter art, because nature has already opened up to that. And at the same time, art can make you open your senses to nature.
For example, the work Victory Stool Bench is immediately easy to decode right? Because everyone instinctively runs up to the first place, and then you can reflect on that fourth place and down after running down to the abyss. But at the same time, it is also just a bench where you can sit and eat your lunch.
There can be so many layers in it. And when I have children and young people out, I use it a lot to talk about this where competitive mentality and culture is where we measure ourselves in relation to each other, but we also measure ourselves primarily in relation to who we are told is the best, and this first, second and third place, where in the world of art we are much more preoccupied with the unique and what stands out; the one. Art can thus be the starting point for this conversation and dialogue, and it can also be relevant to the time we live in, such as right now, which is a time of grades and only the first place or the best applies. In the forest, you can have these dialogues, these talks, which you do not get elsewhere. Elsewhere, you just have to defend whether this is art at all, and you quickly get into a discussion about what art is. When you encounter art within the forest, it’s so easy to go directly to the essentials, to what touches them, to what they see.
Another important point is that when you visit the forest, there’s always someone working on a project, inviting you to have a look and interact with the process.
Thus, you focus (in DFAL) on the social, interactive aspect and the community creation in viewing and contributing to the art in the forest.
What does the project's catalyst, or springboard, for a stronger or larger community consist of?
Yes, in communities (in plural)! We have just become a rallying point. A meeting place. Where are we going to meet this weekend? Now there is this corona, so we can not meet in Bilka, so you can go out in this forest. There are many forests you can go out in, but we go out in this one because we can gather around something. And it's so easy for us to gather around something and that's a big part of it.