Screenshot 2015-06-01 11.01.56

Alexander and Susan Maris are the artists behind ARBOS 2002-2020 which is a symbolic reforestation project in Scotland.

Rannoch Moor is not a natural wilderness. Like much of Scotland, it was once covered with an open forest of mainly Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris). Throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages, small areas of woodland were cleared for agriculture, but it was not until the 15th century, that the Rannoch Forest began to be systematically felled to make charcoal for smelting iron, whilst many of the tallest trees were destined to become the masts of sailing ships. By the time coke had replaced charcoal as fuel for the furnaces (around 1800) most of the forest had been destroyed.

To this day, there are still thousands of bleached stumps and roots scattered across the Moor, but only a few refugia of the original Caledonian Forest have survived. Of these, the Black Wood of Rannoch near Kinloch Rannoch is a particularly fine example.

There is a popular myth that the last wolf in Britain was killed on Rannoch Moor, which is more than a symbolic loss, for nowadays the natural regeneration of Scottish woodland is thwarted by the overgrazing of Red Deer and any attempts to replant are necessarily restricted to fenced enclosures. Reintroduction of wolves into the Scottish Highlands would naturally redress this ecological imbalance and could pave the way for the reintroduction of other native species such as Wild Boar and even the European Black Bear.

ARBOS is the Maris’ symbolic reforestation project for Rannoch Moor. In an appropriate homage to Joseph Beuys’ 7,000 Oaks, the first seven seeds of Pinus sylvestris were planted around the site of Beuys’ Action on Rannoch Moor (1970). However, ARBOS proceeds rather more in the spirit of Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees, in that it represents the exaltation of the simplest creative act by the forces of faith and perseverance. Although it is highly unlikely that more than a few of the Maris’ seedlings will grow into mature Caledonian Pines, in one way at least none of them can possibly fail, because each time a seed is planted on the Moor its position is simultaneously programmed into a GPS receiver, thereby adding one more specimen to an electronically expanding virtual forest.

The vast scale and inherent futility of ARBOS combine to produce a powerful indictment of our relationship with Nature. Meanwhile, the large-format photographs that document the location of each grove, successfully elicit an interim beauty from the desolation of the original Rannoch Forest – even as we await the germination of its Marisian replacement.


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