The Geopolitics of the Forest working group meets regularly to share their research on the geopolitics of the forest across art, architecture, political science and landscape ecology. The group are exploring how to develop holistic and interdisciplinary understandings of the human / forest relationship that can represent multiple, overlapping and conflicting interests. They aim to develop a shared critical space for new collaborative artistic research projects which deal with the ethical complexities of forestry in relation to the climate crisis, to reconsider the language and aesthetics of sustainability.

The meetings investigate multidisciplinary approaches to the human and nonhuman entanglements of the forest in Northern Sweden. Research questions investigate the ethical aesthetics of different kinds of woodlands and their material and geopolitical networks.

The Geopolitics of the Forest Working Group is chaired by Luis Berrios-Negron, UmArts Research Fellow in Art and Architecture. Members include: Gerd Aurell, artist; James B. Brown, architect; Sofia Johansson, curator; Toms Kokins, architect; Lars Östlund, forest historian; Edith Marie Pasquier, artist; Janina Priebe, political science; Moa Sandström, Sámi studies; Per Sandström, landscape ecologist, and many others who come to share their research, practices and ideas.

This research project aims to develop social and creative processes to critically map the extent of the new Swedish timber empire. The research will highlight some of the hidden power structures and narratives underlying the global race for resources that often neglects biodiversity and cultural identities in affected territories. Since the early 1990s there has been an increased procurement of forest lands in neighbouring countries such as Russia, Estonia, Latvia by the Swedish state and private companies. In some cases, this has radically changed the land ownership maps of local municipalities.

Toms Kokins will investigate the extent of Swedish-owned forest land beyond its borders and its relationship to architecture. Using diverse mapping methods, Kokins aims to create an holistic quantitative and qualitative map of the new Swedish timber empire, researching who and what should be included and how it can be communicated? The project will also investigate how the phenomenon is changing local cultural, social and economic landscapes.

Toms Kokins has been awarded a Future Forests research grant to develop his research in 2023. He will participate in the UmArts Planetary Entanglements panel at the Vetenskapsrådet artistic research conference Transformations ‘22: artistic research in times of change, Luleå, November 2022.

Toms Kokins, 2021. Speculative geography including forest lands owned by the Swedish state and private companies. Drawing.

The project will be presented as part of the Eight Degrees Contemporary Art on the Forest exhibition at Bildmuseet 15 March 2024 – 12 January 2025.

VR Conference, Luleå, Sweden, 17 November 2022, 15.00-16.30

UmArts is hosting the Planetary Entanglements panel discussion at the Vetenskapsrådet conference Transformations ‘22: artistic research in times of change with Toms Kokins and the Moving North research group.

UmArts supports critically engaged practice-based architectural, art and design research working in partnership with communities to investigate urgent planetary challenges. The commitment to planetary thinking opens up new perspectives on issues of migration and wellbeing in relation to placemaking and the environment. Planetarity enables us to conceptualise our relationship to each other and the environment as conditions of living on planet earth, rather than the capitalist instruments of globalization, or the inter-state partnerships of internationalism.

This panel brings together researchers investigating forms of reciprocity between migrants, settlers and host communities, investigating the boundaries of colonization and Empire in Sweden, Palestine, Turkey, and Latvia.  The panel will give short presentations about their research followed by a discussion of their entanglements in relation to the discussion of parallel communities in Sweden and European geopolitics during the 21st Century Russian war.

Speakers: Toms Kokins, Architect/Artist, Lecturer, Umeå School of Architecture, Umeå University. Professor Sandi Halil, Artist/Architect, Decolonising Architecture, Lund University. Amalia Katapodis, Architect, Umeå School of Architecture; Navid Ghafouri, Architect; Professor Robert Mull, Architect, Global Free Unit, University of Brighton; Umeå School of Architecture. Chair: Dr Ele Carpenter, Professor of Interdisciplinary Art and Culture, Director of UmArts.

The Matsutake Reading Group took place during 2021 inspired by Anna L. Tsing’s multispecies feminist perspective, reading the world through the matsutake mushroom (Tsing, 2015).

Rethinking the concepts and aesthetics of sustainability from new perspectives, the reading group aims to develop a critical dialogue between theory and practice, where both have equal agency, to find ways of empowering a social production of knowledge.

This key text integrates different modes of geopolitical research enquiry with sensory and performative interludes. Inspired by Tsing’s approach to the forest, the group gathers online and at specific locations to read texts, images, objects and spaces, sharing creative practices and ideas through reading, walking, and foraging.

The first sessions are led by Nella Aarne to collectively read Anna L. Tsing’s book The Mushroom at the End of the World: The possibility of life in capitalist ruins, 2015, Princeton.

As an open-ended practice of collaborative learning, reading groups open radically democratic spaces, within which ideas and practices can evolve and transform in (and due to) the presence of others. Intellectual and creative life is fundamentally social – research and creative practices never develop in isolation but, rather, in relation to others and at the intersections of different knowledges, perspectives and experiences. Whilst providing a generative context for these processes, reading groups also make them explicit. Facilitating multiple voices, reading group discussions unfold like patchworks of collective-making-sense without a sovereign leader who would alone hold the authority of interpretation. They resist the vertical dynamics of a master and an apprentice, and relieve the urge for territorial autonomy in individualist scholarly endeavours. Instead, reading groups establish and sustain lateral connections across disciplinary boundaries, and build intellectual camaraderie over unfinished thoughts.  

Nella Aarne, October 2021.