The Impossible Timescale of Trees


Volume 6, Issue 06
November 12, 2020

We met for a summer walk one afternoon at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Weaving a path through photosynthesizing trees, we spoke about understories and overstories, about arborescent forms and rhizomatic ones, about surfaces and space.

This was the beginning of The Impossible Timescale of Trees. Trees represent an ecological world which is beyond our view, but within our sight. We evolved alongside trees, and share a significant percentage of our genes with them.1

Trees are essential for human survival. The project mobilizes an artistic augmented reality as a visualization tool to access worlds beyond human perception and translate them to modalities of human understanding.

Anil Seth, Co-director of Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, writes, “We don’t just passively perceive the world; we actively generate it. The world we experience comes as much from the inside-out as the outside-in, in a process hardly different from that which we casually call hallucination.” 2 If we are forever reproducing the same patterns of reality, what else is out there that we can’t see? Equipped with the right tools, is there potential to perceive a different reality from the one in which we’ve generated in our own mind? What is reality generated from the perspective of a tree?

The Impossible Time Scale of Trees augments reality as an exercise and a provocation to see beyond our own perceptual limitations. Research has already shown that the epistemological distinction between human and non-human is blurry: a cactus in Japan has the ability to do math;3 plants anticipate and feel pain; 4 perception of color can be traced back to interwoven survival instincts of plants and humans. 5 The natural world has always been speaking to us, but we have forgotten how to listen. It is essential that humans continue to develop new capacities for listening in order to understand our past, present, and future in a shared non-human world.

  1. Richard Powers, The Overstory: A Novel (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2018), 213. ↩︎
  2. Anil Seth, “Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality,” TED, accessed November 9, 2020, ↩︎
  3. Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, The Secret Life of Plants (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 35. ↩︎
  4. Ibid, 18. ↩︎
  5. Richard Powers, 681. ↩︎

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Volume 6, Issue 06
November 12, 2020