Knowledge Commons #4: Trees were planted roots uppermost

In my recent research around accounts of the Inclosure movement in the Bournemouth and Poole area as part of the Digital Transformations project with artists Kevin Carter and Simon Yuill (which I have written about under this same ‘Knowledge Commons’ category elsewhere on the blog) I found a passage* which describes the practical, agricultural knowledge of those who were given many of the former commons to cultivate as being so poor that, ‘many of the trees were planted roots uppermost.’
Flailing Trees

It is a great image. I was reminded of this when I learned from artist Gustav Metzger at the weekend that what I’ve been referring to as his ‘trees piece’ — in fact, Flailing Trees, a public art work first seen in Manchester as part of that city’s festival during 2009 — is to be shown in Munich. Here’s some information about Flailing Trees from the Manchester Festival website (where there is also a short video):

Flailing Trees comprises 21 inverted willows, a subversion of the natural order that brings nature and the environment into sharp focus. With flourishing branches replaced by dying roots, the sculpture is both a plea for reflection and a plaintive cry for change, and is sure to provide a catalyst for debate.

I had been thinking of Gustav Metzger, Auto-destructive Art and the 1966 Destruction in Art Symposium while blogging about Anne Bean and Paul Burwell’s project for The Final Academy in 1982 in the previous post, where Anne discussed setting light to the sheets of paper bearing their/Paul’s poem ‘Adventures in the House of Memory’ during the performance of the piece.

After working with Gustav Metzger and UK director Ken McMullen on the Pioneers in Art and Science: Metzger DVD a few years ago I tracked down a second edition of Metzger’s 1965 publication AUTO-DESTRUCTIVE ART: Metzger at AA. Unlike the first edition, this 2nd printing from October 1965 is illustrated and includes a supplementary section entitled ‘Manifesto World’. The listing also mentioned that some additional papers were included.

Among these, pressed inside the back cover of the book, was the following document (below), an advanced notice of the Destruction in Art Symposium which was subsequently held in London in September 1966. This document seems to be a kind of press release or flyer, but it is expressly addressed to artists and potential participants, and constitutes an invitation from the DIAS Honorary Committee, ‘to all artists who have used actual destruction of materials as part of their technique.’ All such artists are invited to submit proposals or documentation for exhibition. It also invites ‘writers, psychologists, sociologists and others’ to propose 20-minute papers.

‘DIAS aims,’ the invitation continues, ‘to assemble the maximum amount of information on these new art forms and related topics, and to make this information freely available.’

Continuing this ethos, I am posting the document here:

DIAS flyer, from the collection of the author.

It may not be entirely clear from this scan, but the lower portion of the foolscap (I think, rather than A4) page upon which it is printed is missing. I can’t be sure what this portion of the page comprised, but the paper has been carefully torn along a dotted line. I’d be interested to know if any intact copies of this flyer/release still exist, and if so, what was beyond the dotted line?

*The Inclosure-era text I mention above is called Farmer West and Muscliffe Farm. It was written by ‘Christopher King as reported by the son of William West, tenant of Muscliffe during 1801-1804’. It was published as an appendix to William Mate’s Then & Now in 1883. A reference copy, in the form of local studies booklet No.612, is available in the Heritage Zone of Bournemouth Library. More on the local studies booklet series here.

Photograph of Flailing Trees © Spinneyhead 2009 on Flickr, licensed with Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share-alike Generic 2.0.

Pioneers in Art and Science: Metzger (DVD, 2004, dir. Ken McMullen), is distributed by Concord Media and available for sale from their website £15.00.

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