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In celebration of trees

Cássio Vasconcellos, A Picturesque Voyage Through Brazil #37, 2015. Inkjet print on cotton paper, 75 × 112 cm. Courtesy GADCOLLECTION Gallery, Paris and Galeria Nara Roesler, São Paulo. © Cássio Vasconcellos.

“We are facing a worsening climate and environmental crisis. Scientific discoveries are beginning to help us understand the crucial role of trees, and the world of plants in general, in preserving life and in regulating our planet’s climate,” says Bruce Albert.

Bruce Albert© Edouard Caupeil

Albert is an anthropologist and part of the curation team of Trees, an exhibition curated for a Chinese audience presented by the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain and the Power Station of Art, Shanghai.

With more than 200 works from nearly 30 artists, botanists, and scientists, the exhibition weaves three narrative threads around trees: aesthetic meditation, scientific knowledge, and the tragedy of deforestation and the mega-fires that are devastating our planet.

Brazilian artist, Luiz Zerbini, explores conflict between human expansion and nature through The Hashim Massacre, a painting which depicts a 1993 incident in the Amazon rainforest in which 16 indigenous Yanomami people were killed and their village razed by miners.

Johanna Calle, a Colombian artist examines the connection between Colombian farmers and trees through her series Perimetros (Outline). Using a typewriter and the text of 2011 law designed to provide restitution to displaced farmers, she creates the form of a native Ceiba tree on sheets of notary paper. The law allows farmers’ rights over the land to be demonstrated by their knowledge of the trees they planted.

Stefano Mancuso, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 2019. Photo© Edouard Caupeil

Stefano Mancuso, an Italian pioneer of plant neurobiology and proponent of plant intelligence presents surprising videos of the communicative and memory capacities of trees.

“It is impossible for me to imagine any form of life without intelligence. Even more so in the case of plants, which being unable to move, must necessarily solve their problems,” Mancuso explains. “To imagine that intelligence is a gift given to 0.3% of biomass with brains (animals) and that the remaining 99.7% of living beings are made up of automatic organic machines, I find it unlikely and even evolutionarily unrealistic.”

Mancuso stresses that humans should move faster to declare deforestation a crime against humanity and organize global reforestation.

Albert reminds us that our atmosphere is the product of 2.5 billion years of photosynthesis. Life only appeared on Earth thanks to plants. “Destroying the forests would be tantamount to erasing the fine layer of atmosphere which protects life on Earth,” he says.

The exhibition runs from 9 July to 31 October 2021 at the Power Station of Art, Shanghai

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