So quoth Joseph Beuys, one of the most influential artists of the last century and German Green Party founder, and certainly the one who most used trees on such a grand scale in his work.
One of his best known pieces grows in Kassel, Germany. With the help of volunteers, he planted 7,000 oak trees over several years, beginning in 1982, pairing each with a basalt stone.
The effort provoked controversy at the beginning. People didn’t like the dark stones. A motorcyclist actually bashed into one and died. Kassel’s citizenry had been traumatized by its heavy bombing in World War Two, and this didn’t stauch the pain. He dumped the volcanic stones in front of the city’s public museum, and people didn’t like that. What a mess.
7,000 Oaks – City Forestation Instead of City Administration has grown over time into something else. Citizens chose where to plant the saplings and developed a sense of ownership and pride about the trees. It was a proactive way of getting nature into our lives.
Here is Beuys: “I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heart wood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet ever since the Druids, who are called after the oak. Druid means oak. They used their oaks to define their holy places. I can see such a use for the future …. The tree planting enterprise provides a very simple but radical possibility for this when we start with the seven thousand oaks.”