Photography by Photographers for Forests
In June 2003 I was approached by Virginia Young of the Wilderness Society, to work on an art piece which would involve members of the community and help raise awareness of the plight of the endangered Styx Forest — the Valley of the Giants.
And so I developed the idea of knitted ‘Tree Hugs’. My concept was essentially to create a powerful art installation while simultaneously enabling everyone and anyone in the community to actively participate in the creation of a statement reflecting their love, care and willingness to protect the beauty of the Styx forest from further old growth logging. People throughout the community could knit red wool into pieces as short or as long as they personally had time and ability to produce, to be sewn together into 'hugs' that would be wrapped around the bases of trees.
I envisaged a line of red hugs through the panorama of the Styx Forest — a line of protection, a line of defence, a line reflecting the community’s consistent concern over old growth logging in the Styx. A hug is one of the most natural ways in which humans show their care for one another. The colour red speaks of many things — passion, love, care, no, stop…
The act of knitting is an intimate one, embedded in our cultural heritage as a display of love and care. We knit for someone special. It’s also something anyone, young or old, male or female, can engage in either privately or with others. Throughout history, knitting has been a way for those on the ”home front” to aid loved ones on the battlefront.
Tree Hugs was also a way the frail, the bedridden and the elderly unable physically to join the barricades were able to actively contribute to the debate.
Over a three month period, knit-in events were organised and people across Tasmania were seen knitting. The Wilderness Society organised knitting at its stall at Salamanca Market each Saturday. The Republic Hotel in North hobart hosted a knit-in where the pub was filled with red wool and knitters of all ages listening to poetry or local bands. School students, teachers, retirement home members, patients in hospital were knitting. People knitted everywhere, in pubs, in cafes, at the soccer. Like Chinese whispers the news spread.
In the end we received knitted squares and rectangles from all around Tasmania, Melbourne, Sydney and the Blue Mountains, Queensland, Fitzroy Crossing in the Outback, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra, from ages four to 92. Richard, a technician at the Theatre Royal, knitted his way through 15 metres and gave up smoking at the same time! We received hugs from the UK, Brazil, Canada, Scotland, Fiji and the USA.
In October, over 800 pieces, 115 square metres in all, filled the room at the Victoria Centre in central Hobart. With the aid of many volunteers the pieces were joined into ‘tree hugs’ and a week later they were ready for installation in the forest.
The first stage of the installation wrapped a large 18m hug around Gandalf’s Staff, a magnificent 400-year-old 84m high Eucalyptus regnans. A number of other trees were also wrapped in this same area of Styx wilderness destined for logging, and the public were invited to visit and view the hugs.
The second stage was the creation of the red line installed in an area of old growth forest at the edge of a clearfell. Over four days with the aid of eight willing volunteers, four ladders and lots of patience the panorama of hugs was complete — a line of protection, a red line of defence.
The red line of hugs was filmed over a period of 19 hours using time-lapse techniques to capture the shifting light from morning to night, and then condensed into a 12-minute video. The "tree hugs' were part of the national touring exhibition Barking up the Wrong Tree which opened in Mori Gallery, Sydney, followed by Spacement Gallery, Melbourne and Carnegie Gallery in Hobart. They were also installed in the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Red Bull Music Academy, Melbourne 2007.