Forest Talk: Getting to the Roots of Sylvan Essence.
March 28, 2023
Have you walked by the Century College Art Gallery on West Campus and thought, “Is there a bird in here?” That sound is a small portion of Sylvan Essence, a visual and sensory installation by artist Shoshana Fink. This intriguing and thought-provoking work is the latest in a successful series of shows brought to the Century College Art Gallery.
Visitors of Sylvan Essence often discuss the sense of calm the work brings to the gallery space and relate how the scents and sounds evoke memories and emotions. The light filtering through the gallery windows naturally transforms the work, modifying the tones and hues of the translucent woodland pictures like sunshine filtering through the forest canopy. Scents of pine and earth bring an additional experiential component to the magical nature of the work.
The installation’s center piece invites us to smell and hear the forest through bio-acoustical research on plant communication. Stepping into this space allows us to consider the true nature of what it means to “talk” as we can sit at the root level of the forest and hear something incredible: the language of the forest.
I was able to connect with Shoshana recently and ask a few questions about her journey as an artist and this beautiful and fascinating work.
Where are you from and how does that affect your work?
I grew up in Minnesota, but I have lived in many parts of the country – East Coast, Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and West Coast. I’ve also been very fortunate to be able to travel to many parts of the world, sometimes for extended periods. As such, I don’t see myself as being from any one place because I’ve lived and have been influenced by many. This is certainly reflected in my practice. Indeed, while my work addresses issues of place and site specificity, the concepts I address in my work are not local. They are about one place and many places simultaneously.
Where do you find inspiration?
My work has always been inspired by words. It might be something I read or something someone said, but it always begins with text. I attribute this to being Jewish. A lot of Jewish tradition comes from close textual analysis and debate. Words also carry a great deal of power. In fact, certain books are never thrown away. They are buried, much like human beings. It is only after I find the words that I move on to visual, auditory, and olfactory sources to support my artistic concept.
What’s the purpose or goal of your work?
In art, I believe insights can be discovered by intentionally misplacing things somewhere they are not normally kept. So, the goal of my work is to inspire the viewer to experience this misplacement and to examine what that means for them.
Is there a specific material that’s integral to your work?
All of my work is, at least in part, lens-based or photographic. The basic components of photography – time, light, and chemistry – provide a dialogue with both the natural world and that of technology. Those “conversations” are both timeless and contemporary, unchanging, and always evolving. It is a medium of paradox which I embrace.
How has your style changed over time?
My work has expanded beyond the visual and auditory and into the olfactory – especially during the last few years. This happened organically during the process of doing research for Sylvan Essence. Plants and trees both emit scent and react to scent; scent is part of the panoply of plant language and communication. So, it was natural for me to explore the olfactory as a part of this project.
That said, I also conducted extensive research on how other creative makers have explored the olfactory in their own work. I was particularly taken with the work of Anicka Yi, a multi-disciplinary Korean American artist. She describes working with scent as “sculpting the air.” While working in olfactory art presents its own unique challenges, I love creating something whose “space” is so variable and amorphous. Not only does scent engage the senses in particular ways, but its porous character emphasizes the permeability of all living things.
What do you hope visitors take away from Sylvan Essence?
I have several hopes. First, that the piece makes the viewer aware that plant sensing and human sensing are not entirely different from each other. We both communicate with light, sound, and scent. Second, that the installation allows viewers the opportunity to imagine the fullness of the plant realm. Plants exist in two worlds simultaneously: above and below ground. We only exist in one.
When viewers enter the central photo sculpture, I ask the human viewer to think about a living existence in the dark, moist soil. Third, that there is an ever-present sympoiesis1, or “making together.” Western culture creates a dichotomy, almost a fissure, between “the natural ” or non-human and the human world. It doesn’t exist. We are in constant exchange: air, sound, scent, movement, and water. We live “in” and “with” each other. Lastly, I hope that viewers of different abilities can enjoy the piece. Since Sylvan Essence employs the visual, auditory, olfactory, and sense of touch, it can be accessed in multiple ways or just one.
Meet the artist at their talk on:
Tuesday April 18th at 2pm in the Century College Art Gallery on West Campus!
You can see more of Shoshana Fink through her Website and Instagram pages:
Shoshana Fink/שושנה פינק (@shoshanafink) • Instagram photos and videos
Did you know the West Coast of the US includes the world’s largest remaining tracts of temperate rainforest? Want to know more about the Hoh forest? Start with the National Park Service:
Visiting the Hoh Rain Forest
Want to know more about the amazing work of Korean-American artist Anicka Yi who influenced the artist? Stop by their website:
Anicka Yi Studio
Sympoiesis or ‘making-with’ The environmental philosopher Donna Haraway defines the term sympoiesis in her fascinating book Staying with the Trouble like this: “Sympoiesis is a simple word; it means “making-with.” Nothing makes itself; nothing is really autopoietic or self-organizing. In the words of the Inupiat computer “world game,” earthlings are never alone. That is the radical implication of sympoiesis. Sympoiesis is a word proper to complex, dynamic, responsive, situated, historical systems. It is a word for worlding-with, in company” (p. 58).