Antti Laitinen’s Armour
By Harriet von Froreich
On the fifth and last day of Antti Laitinen’s work at the Turku New Performance Festival, a majestic maple tree of eight meters height carries a silvery, shiny shell around its trunk and some of its big branches. This „armour“ – hence the title of the piece – is composed of thin steel sheets. On the grass of the public Vartiovuori park lie a lot of yellowish leaves, more than under any other tree in the park.
The processual work takes place during five days. Walkers and residents pass by while Laitinen and his assistant are constructing the armour. Some of them rush by, some stop to comment on what they see, some find beauty in the armoured tree, some ask questions. A lot of them are concerned about the tree’s well-being, its trunk lacking light and air.
There is a strange ambivalence in the tree’s new guise, being protected by its armour, like a tree-knight, and requiring protection itself from the human intervention that is taking place. But nature appears to be mute, and leaves are dropping quietly. Human intervention can only be stopped by human intervention (and so far did visitors not go).
The sheets and pop rivets do not harm the tree’s bark, they barely touch it. However, the artificial, smooth and cool material covering the organic, barky skin of a living being causes a slight shiver which cannot be thwarted by the golden octobery light. What is an armour that besets, rather than protects?
The word „armour“, however, does not only have the meaning of a protective cover, to prevent damage from something – it also belongs in a military or martial context, and enables the carrier to fight. Nature/culture bifurcations are part of the project’s appeal: A tree in an armour can be seen as a part-taking entity in a conflict-stricken world.
While the days go by, working on the tree undergoes different phases. The aluminium plates need to be sliced in different sizes and be adapted to the physiognomics of the tree. The further Laitinen gets, the slower the process becomes, working and moving around the tree appears to be more and more difficult. As the ladder’s height is not enough anymore, a wooden construction is built on which Laitinen stands, swaying slightly in the wind, secured by a belt and a rope. Also this fragile appearing construction must be adapted to the tree’s gnarled body, dismantled and reassembled from time to time. The relationship between the artist and his material is physical, pragmatic and practice-oriented: There are tools like a saw, the pop rivets, the screw driver and the ladder, there is matter like steel and wood. And there is the tree, oscillating between being Laitinen’s majestic counterpart, his duet partner and, at the same time, the defenseless object of encroaching human action.
Working outside, unswervingly, in wind, sun or rain, cutting steel plates, drilling holes in the metal, climbing up and down the tree with the help of some wooden slats – Laitinen’s work evokes a certain traditional idea(l) of endurance and physical strength, of a (male?) worker’s ethic. The performed action itself, however, has a sense of absurdism. It is impossible to cover every small, fine branch of the tree, if not even pointless. But Laitinen keeps on working determinedly, like some calm Sisyphus, until the wood is coated with steel.
On Sunday, the last day of the festival, the tree’s new shimmery surface reflects the different shades of the slowly fading afternoon light, and there is not a single bug on it.