A ‘forest sculpture’ in Klagenfurt’s stadium

Una Meistere

FOR FOREST – The Unending Attraction of Nature promises to become one of the most ambitious and provocative environmental art projects in Europe this autumn. For almost two whole months (9 September – 27 October), the Wörthersee football stadium in Klagenfurt will be transformed into a...forest. Usually home to the SK Austria Klagenfurt club, instead of a football game spectators will have the opportunity to view a ‘forest sculpture’, that is, a seemingly natural imitation of a central European forest. The project aims to temporarily replant into the stadium 300 fully grown trees (30 to 40 years old), some weighing as much as six tonnes. Once the event is over, just as carefully as they were removed from their former location, the trees will be transplanted on a scale of 1:1 in an urban area near the stadium so that they continue being a living art installation in Klagenfurt, and like a true forest, will continue to change along with the seasons as it interacts with the surrounding environment. Along with this new forest, a separate pavilion will be erected with the purpose of documenting the project.

FOR FOREST is the lifelong project of Swiss curator Klaus Littmann (b.1951), who came up with the idea thirty years ago after seeing the dystopian drawing The Unending Attraction of Nature by Austrian artist and architect Max Peintner (b.1937). Asked by Arterritory why he chose this moment to realize the project, Littmann answered: ‘It was just a coincidence as I searched for the right location for a long time; none of my projects have ever been “current” – I’ve always been ten years “too early”.  It's the right moment to make it happen as the project includes a variety of aspects: on one hand, it is aimed at art-savvy people, and on the other, there's the symbolic and philosophical aspect of the tree as a place of longing or as a daily reminder of climate change. FOR FOREST must take place right now: never has the forest been so much at the focus of attention – 30 years ago, nobody really thought about climate protection. It took six years for me to persuade the local authorities – a total of 43 trips were made to Klagenfurt’.

Portrait of Klaus Littmann, 2019. Photo by Emmanuel Fradin, Courtesy of For Forest

Having studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy during the time of Joseph Beuys, Klaus Littmann has completed over 80 art projects in total, including collaborating with internationally renowned artists such as Christo, Tony Cragg, Jean Tinguely, Dieter Roth, Daniel Buren, Niki de Saint Phalle, and others. His curatorial interests have always included confrontation between contemporary art and urban spaces, as well as the relationship of popular culture with art; he is also known as a discoverer of new talent.

One of the reasons why the implementation of FOR FOREST was so time consuming was the difficulty in finding the exact right place, given that the initial idea was to use a stadium where the installation could be exhibited for the relatively long period of time it required. According to the project organisers, ‘Wörthersee Stadium has the advantage of being a football stadium and not an athletic stadium, as depicted in Max Peintner's drawing. That made it easier to combine the forest and the stadium and bring them together to form an art project’. Having opened in 2007, Wörthersee Stadium is also one of the most modern in Austria, which has undoubtedly played a crucial role in the choice of the venue due to the fact that the glass, concrete and steel that were used to build the stadium accentuate the contrast between the natural forest and the blatant artificiality of the stadium. The stadium has 30,000 seats and in 2008 also served as one of the locations for the European Football Championship.

Littmann asserts that through this project, his goal was ‘to challenge our perception of nature and question its future’. Moreover, ‘the project seeks to become a memorial, reminding us that nature, which we so often take for granted, may someday only be found in specially designed spaces, as is already the case with animals in zoos’. When asked, in his opinion, at what point did humans lose their link to the natural world, Littmann answers: ‘I don't think there's a suitable answer for this as in the 1970s, nobody really thought of climate protection. What we already see in the the case of animals in zoos may one day happen with nature as well’.

Model for Forest, Die ungebrochene Anziehungskraft der Natur, Johann Puch.

In developing the project, Littmann is working with the Swiss landscape architecture studio Enea Landscape Architecture, which was founded by the renowned landscape architect Enzo Enea, who also happens to be a passionate collector of trees. Part of Enea’s impressive collection is on display at his 75,000 m2-large Tree Museum, the first and only in the world, located on the shores of Lake Zurich in Switzerland. Since 2013 the trees have been joined by sculptures created by contemporary artists, thereby creating a unique choreography of artwork and trees. Littmann describes the collaboration between the two for the FOR FOREST project: ‘We were introduced to each other through a mutual friend. I presented the project to Enzo Enea and he was determined to assist with its realisation. He provides his know-how free of charge and thus contributes significantly to the sometimes difficult implementation of the project’. Upon being asked what the tree, as a symbol, means to him, he replies: ‘The tree as a symbol has cultural meaning in any case, but precisely through this current discussion, it is slowly regaining a central place in our consciousness and the realisation of what it provides for us humans’.

The 300-tree forest that will grow in the stadium is exactly the size of a football pitch. The grass on the football pitch around the forest will be made to look like a flowered meadow composed of grasses, wildflowers and herbs. Since the flowers and herbs are supposed to bloom, this grass will probably not be moved at all from August until November, which will truly make the area look like a meadow. The forest installation will be open to viewers from 10am to 10pm, allowing people to enjoy the view both in bright daylight and at dusk. It is intended for the stadium to serve as a simple space for both nature watching and contemplation.

It has to be said that FOR FOREST is not only an ambitious project but also a challenging one. First of all, the technical execution of it balances on the edge of the impossible – a forest literally being brought into a stadium is unprecedented. Secondly, there’s the relationship between the 'forest sculptures' and the environment. Littmann's office does not hide the fact that there is very heated debate right now on ‘how and to what extent the project is embedded in the “climate change movement”. We must stay tuned to the latest developments and find a balance between the artistic aspect of the project and its inherent environmental aspect. Despite the remarkable timing of the FOR FOREST project coinciding with global student climate change protests in 2019, it’s worth underlining that the idea for the project developed thirty years ago.’ Given the project's ambition as well as its implicit duality (i.e. in denouncing homo sapiens’ self-proclaimed status of being ‘the crown of creation’ and manipulating nature in the name of its own well-being and greed, the project itself also embodies, in a sense, such a manipulation), it has opposition on both local and national levels. ‘When you interfere with a public space, you reach more people than anywhere else – there is no threshold in-between, no demand of entry, no obstacles. At the same time, of course, you must be aware that you are facing your opponents. Whenever there is any sort of resistance to the work, you must question yourself critically – that's incredibly important’, explains Littmann.

FOR FOREST will also be accompanied by an ambitious programme of activities ranging from environmental discussions to concerts and readings.

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