The Plot.

The Plot is part of The Appeal of The Unreal, my PhD in Arts trajectory at KU Leuven/LUCA School of Arts, Brussels (2019 – 2023). Other chapters are The Thanos Solution, The Medea Hypothesis,, The Compositor, and The Five Stages of Grief (debunked).

In the early 1960s, my grandfather bought a hectare of land, covered in young Norway spruces, which were destined to be used as firewood. Since 1966, however, Dutch households got connected to the natural gas network, rendering firewood less urgent. This provided the small forest decades of undisturbed growth.

Due to the trees’ density, the tall crowns blocked sunlight effectively. The dark forest consisted of mostly bare, straight trunks, its floor covered with an increasingly thick layer of shed needle-leaves. Apart from at the borders, barely anything would grow.As a child, me and my relatives would regularly visit the small forest. Routes were made between the trees, partly by an uncle and a cousin. In one end, which was slightly lighter and wetter than the rest, deciduous trees, blackberry bushes, nettle, and high, juicy grasses would grow.

The spring and summer of both 2018 and 2019 were extremely dry. The droughts rendered the spruces exhausted. A bug – Ips typographus – misused their weakness. It lays its eggs in the spruce bark, forcing its larvae to chew themselves out, into the great outdoors, disrupting the tree’s sap stream in the process. A healthy tree can fight them off, but these trees couldn’t.All spruces died. In September 2019, the forest got cleared. The terrain became The Plot.

Due somewhat to the sense of urgency created by the current pandemic crisis, my research focus shifted from the exclusive study of simulated reality and the ‘emotive quality of dead things’ – which I set out to do when I started my PhD in Arts trajectory – to encompass a more explicit engagement with ecological issues. I’m now using the Plot as a gateway to addressing issues of ecological crisis.

The Plot becomes a tangibly affected biosphere that needs attention, a lens through which to view larger issues, and an arena in which to perform research.The disappearance of the forest and the transformation of this piece of land into The Plot are simultaneously apocalyptic and promising. By attempting to read the message in the bark beetle’s tunnels, we may find solutions to the ecological crises. We also may simply encounter artistic items, but at least those can function as reminders of the present day challenges.

Photos: Intervention 1, september 30, 2020. The installation of commemorative bark beetle tunnel plaques. Engraved plastic signs, 7 – 16cm, 2020.

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Alexandra Crouwers (NL, °1974) is a visual artist working in the digital realm. Her works are made by using a combination of 3D modeling and animation, and post-production, and can take many forms. From 2019 on, she's a doctoral researcher in art and animation at Leuven University/LUCA School of arts, Brussels, under supervision of Wendy Morris.