Glenn Kaino’s latest art installation, A Forest for the Trees, takes over a 28,000 square foot warehouse in Los Angeles. It’s an uncanny mix of the natural world and an artificial environment, and our West Coast Cultivist members were in for a particularly resonant forest sound bath of sorts.
As we gathered at the entrance, the sound of distant music lured from behind the large walls surrounding the lobby. Our group was led into a small private room with a display of some of Kaino’s most iconic works, including Spontaneous Combustion and Salute (Final Turn). Here, we were met by the artist to begin a tour through a forest of magic, music, and wonder.
Kaino began the tour by explaining the concept behind the installation. Like much of his work, its focus is on climate and social justice and the relationship between humans and nature. With climate change at an all time high, it is necessary for humans to recognize the urgency of the state of the planet. A Forest for Trees was designed to inspire viewers to reimagine their relationship with the world.
The first section of the exhibition is set in a dark room, where a voice-over narration begins and corresponding wall panels light up. It tells a story from the Kurak people, about how they modulated the environment through controlled burning. At the closing, the narrator says, “You are about to enter a symbolic forest within which we can invent real systems of justice for our planet together, for each other, and for the revitalization of the practices and principles employed by indigenous peoples for millennia.” This set a beautiful tone for the continuation of the tour.
The next entryway is a small room with a spiral-patterned disc on the far wall. Inspired by the concept of magic, Kaino explains this piece as a portal into the forest. The group is asked to stare directly into the disk while it spins. After a minute of staring, he tells us to hold up the palm of our hands and stare at them — and the lines on our hands appear to pulsate, much like tree branches in the wind.
In awe, we move to a path resembling a nature trail. The path leads to four installations, each representing water, wood, fire and air. Before allowing us to explore the installations on our own, Kaino leads us to what appear to be rows of ascending fire. This installation represents controlled fires, acknowledging the Native understanding of forest management and opening up a conversation about the government's control over Native Americans.
To end the tour, our group gathers around a large fig tree, the trunk set upright, with boasting branches made up of a grid framework and panels that cycle through a range of colors. Kaino came upon the tree rather serendipitously, during a visit to a local lumber yard. When he heard it was from El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the historical centre of the city, he knew he had to include it.
A truly powerful installation, A Forest for the Trees is conceptual, collaborative and a political call to action. In collaboration with The Atlantic, Superblue, and Mastercard, Kaino has created an immersive experience that reaches back to Native traditions and proposes a way forward.
A Forest for the Trees is a must-see show that is extending into November. Tickets are available for purchase here. For every ticket sold, Conservation International will plant a tree in support of Mastercard’s commitment to restore 100 million trees by 2025.
– Words by Emma Casey