Trees make us feel good : an artistic exploration of interspecies embodiment between trees and humans : an exegesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

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I have been fortunate to live beside an indigenous Beech-Tawhai Forest for over thirty years, a mere sprinkling of time given it has lived here on the eastern shore of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa New Zealand since the last ice age over 7,000 years ago (Cochran 57). Its presence is always with me, nurturing my family and the communities living alongside. This is an offering of thanks for its sustenance. What follows is an artistic exploration of interspecies embodiment between trees and humans. Key questions I explore are: If we and the trees are entities, each with distinct and independent existences, then how do we embody each other? Why is our connection to trees and place so important to us? And how do we honour this living being of a Forest that protects, not only its own mauri (life force), but the mauri of all those living nearby? These questions inform my MFA art practice, resulting in a research-driven and heartfelt creative response. As a conceptual installation artist, my efforts to make space for deeper embodiment between myself and the trees leads to investigations of new materials and processes. Social-engaged art projects with my community expand this sense of embodiment, and artists who focus on embodiment broaden and nourish my artmaking. To begin, I explore the outer dynamic of East Harbour Regional Park's northern Forest contained by sea, roads, private property, and farmland. Next, I ask others to share their embodiment with the inner dynamic of the Forest; those small intimate spaces people go to, so they may heal and connect with nature. Finally, the Forest's wilderness is recontextualised, contrasting it with the small forest of bonsai growing in our garden as I investigate why my family strives to recreate moments of connection with nature within our home. I hope this thesis may add to the chorus of voices currently seeking to understand the world from a more-than-human perspective. Today's zeitgeist is driven by a need to reorientate our worldview so we may redress our impact on the planet and its lifeforms. There is much to learn from those who have lived sustainably and in harmony with their environment. Aotearoa's indigenous Māori knowledge-based system, Te Ao Taiao, is explored as a path forward. Exciting scientific research into how trees communicate with each other, and other species, opens new dimensions for multi-species encounter that "situates us within the specific and affirms us as inseparable from the environment" (Adams 150).
Figures are re-used with permission.