With Mountain Birches on the Tree Line
posted by Annette Arlander on 23 June 2021

Writing these notes at the summer solstice in Helsinki, a week after returning from a two-week residency at the biological station in Kilpisjärvi, involves a double nostalgia, for the continuous increase of light, which is now turning to the reverse, and for the magic light in the North. My work in the Ars Bioarctica residency was not about light, though, but rather the mountain birches up on the tree line, although working with a video camera means that light is highly important, of course. I visited the residency once before, in 2014, and therefore remembered the slopes were covered with birches. At that time, I was interested in landscape more generally, after finishing a long project on Harakka Island in the south. A lot of the material from that first visit is gathered on a page called Data, Material, Remains on the Research Catalogue. 

Now, my main focus was the mountain birches. I could not resist attempting a remake of one of the works, Day and Night with Malla, see here. And with a small shift in focus, by including the small birches on the shore through framing and my position, this became Day and Night with a Mountain Birch. The process is documented as still images and a brief version of the video, here.

During my stay I also had the opportunity to receive a private lecture about mountain birches from a real expert, Rauni Partanen, who was about to finish her work at the station. This interest in mountain birches, which here form the tree line, unlike the fir trees in many mountainous areas, is related to my current project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees. In the project blog there is a separate page devoted to this Ars Bioarctica residency where I have added one image of all the trees I performed with. The performances or poses for a video camera together with various trees during the whole project are documented as still-images in the project archive online. The material recorded in Kilpisjärvi is concentrated on three pages: Day and Night with a Mountain Birch, already mentioned, With mountain birches in Kilpisjärvi, a page of images with the small birches near the lake, including a rough diary with one of them, repeated every morning and evening during my stay, and On the Tree line, images made together with the small mountain birches growing up on the slope of Saana Fell or rather in the area between Saana and Jeahkas.

So far, I have edited only the time-lapse videos Day and Night with a Mountain Birch (53 min 13 sec and 13 min 15 sec), Listening with the Mountain Birches (108 min 40 sec and 24 min 10 sec), and the two letters Dear Mountain Birch (23 min and 7 min) and Dearest Mountain Birch (25 min and 7 min) which I wrote at the end of my stay. These materials were rather easy or “self-evident” in terms of editing. What to do with the videos of other mountain birches down by the lake and of all the mountain birches high up on the tree line? Experimenting with that will keep nostalgia at bay during the coming days of slowly decreasing light.