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Agencia de Borde, an art collective based in Santiago, Chile, explores Eucalyptus plantations and inquire about the history, representation and cultural construction of monoculture and forest land.

Bosque Pehuen

Fire Forests and Eucalyptus Plantations

For the past 8 years, Border Agency, an art collective based in Santiago, Chile, has been engaged in artistic research that explores the intersection of nature and technology. Our focus has revolved around understanding how technology shapes our perception of the landscape . As part of this exploration, we have delved into topics such as the landmines planted in the Atacama desert and our latest project, Fire Forests, which addresses one of the most striking landscape phenomena in central Chile: the proliferation of eucalyptus plantations across the country.

From a landscape perspective, the effect of Eucalyptus globulus plantations in Chile have been dividing the territory into fragments to which there is no access, creating virtual borders that fracture and alter the experience of the landscape . In this context, our interest as artists has been to document the perception of these “green deserts”. We are intrigued by how the presence of eucalyptus forests influences the way these territories are perceived and believe that any idea about forest plantations should originate from the territory and its inhabitants, shaping our knowledge and challenging preconceived notions.

We began this research in the context of massive wildfires in 2016 (570 thousand hectares burned) by visiting several eucalyptus plantations in the Valparaiso and Los Ríos Region. In Chaihuín, an area characterised by dense plantations alongside the roads, we observed inhabitants residing in close proximity to these plantations. We were struck by the fact that, regardless of their size, they somehow become invisible, melding into everyday life as if they had always been there.

This apparent invisibility seemed to us a clear sign of the violence that eucalyptus plantations exert over the landscape and its inhabitants. In response, our initial artistic approach was to point out what we did not perceive from the plantations, which was precisely the eucalyptus!

The promise of modernisation and the efficient production of wood, paper pulp and more recently, textile fibres, encompasses not only the extraction of tree resources, but also eliminates the potential of inhabiting the land from a non-extractivist logic, both in its human and non-human dimensions. We became aware of the impact of forest plantations as a form of land occupation, resulting in a depletion of biodiversity , soil degradation, water scarcity, rural poverty, rural-urban migration, and an elevated risk of forest fires. In essence, it creates a “green desert” that generates inequality and poor social coexistence. The ‘eucalyptus as a landscape ’ phenomenon allowed us to reflect on nature/technology boundary, distinguishing the natural effects of the species from those resulting from the productive operations applied to the eucalyptus.

We also observed distinct sources of “smartness” in the eucalyptus. Firstly, in 1976 the forestry industry and academia converged under the banner of the Cooperativa de Mejoramiento Genético (Genetic Improvement Cooperative). This organisation assumed the responsibility of annually selecting the finest specimens (taller, straighter, more resistant to frost) to be used as models for cloning. This led to the creation of Eucalyptus gloni, a novel species formed by combining Eucalyptus globulus (better wood quality) and Eucalyptus nittens (more resistant to cold weather). Yet, from an industry perspective the eucalyptus is still wild and unmanageable. The forestry industry's pursuit of their aspirations is leading them toward an indistinct uniformity, akin to wheat.

Thus, engaging with the question of surviving homogenisation becomes urgent. Our approach took different forms, but we were led by questioning how an individual becomes an ecosystem. We worked in what could be considered antipodal landscapes: Eucalyptus plantations and native forest in Bosque Pehuén, a conservation reserve in Wallmapu, facilitating the emergence of a polyphony of voices, including human and non-human agencies, all while attempting to dismantle binary logics.

Image 01. “Eucalyptus: sound archive”. 14th Biennial of Media Arts. 2019. MNBA. Santiago.

Image 01. “Eucalyptus: sound archive”. 14th Biennial of Media Arts. 2019. MNBA. Santiago.

Our first public engagement in this project was a site-specific piece created for the 14th Biennial of Media Arts (2019) as part of the Third Landscape exhibition at the National Fine Arts Museum in Santiago (MNBA). The work entitled “ Eucalyptus : sound archive” (Image 01) consisted of a stainless steel operating table with dozens of juvenile eucalyptus trees , audio files and collaborative observation sheets. Through these, the audience contributed to the piece by providing diagnoses for the eucalyptus' "medical issues."

This work was the first approach, a diagnostic piece to understand how the eucalyptus is perceived in Chile. It was a participatory device and a way to connect eucalyptus trees with their history in Chile through sound stories based on public records about the species. We referred to these objects as stowaways, as they were strategically positioned in unconventional locations —transit routes, access points or residual spaces— almost imperceptibly infiltrating the museum environment.

Image 02. View of Chaihuín and eucalyptus plantation. January 2020

Image 02. View of Chaihuín and eucalyptus plantation. January 2020

Our second fieldwork (summer 2020) took place in Chaihuín (Image 02), a coastal village located in southern Chile, near Valdivia. The research proposed to re-experience the eucalyptus as an individual rendered invisible by the operations of capital. We created a participatory walk across the eucalyptus plantation , collaborating with local students and artists, and inviting them to identify the particularities of the eucalyptus. This experience gave rise to a collection of drawings, notes and conversations interwoven with the memory and daily affections of those who collaborated with us.

Image 03: Postcard detail, part of the exhibition "El sonido del árbol al Caer", Galería Barrios Bajos, Valdivia, January 2020.

Image 03: Postcard detail, part of the exhibition "El sonido del árbol al Caer", Galería Barrios Bajos, Valdivia, January 2020.

We also conducted research by examining how historical postcards of Chile depict the eucalyptus. In the pictures of Plaza Sotomayor in Valparaíso, Cerro Santa Lucía, and views of the cities of Talcahuano and Puerto Montt, among many others, the eucalyptus emerges as an inconspicuous element within the Chilean landscape , dating back to the early 20th century. Surprisingly, it usually appears in the background as part of an unrelated tourism scene.

Our most recent fieldwork (summer 2022) took place in Bosque Pehuén, a conservation park managed by the Mar Adentro Foundation. We spent two weeks with our families and the artist Seba Calfuqueo working in the recovered forests of the park. During the residency, we carried out different actions that aimed to make visible the relationships between the different species and the temporalities that co-exist there.

Image 04: Dead trunk with a piece of clay. Bosque Pehuen, January 2022.

Image 04: Tree trunk with a piece of clay. Bosque Pehuen, January 2022.

We arrived at the Pehuén reserve, longing to be affected by those infinite relationships underpinning the notions of the forest. We tried to inhabit and understand the forest beyond the mediated gaze of the camera. We wanted to smell, touch, get dirty… turn into a forest. Feel and think through the experience of being IN that territory .

Image 05: “Línea de corte”. Bosque Pehuen, January 2022.

Image 05: “Línea de corte”. Bosque Pehuen, January 2022.

We devised different strategies to enable us to immerse ourselves in the forest and think of it, not as taxonomies of species and experiences, but as a network of interconnecting relationships. Drawing inspiration from ideas by Tomás Ibarra (2020), we devised a strategy to touch and forge a connection with the tree trunks as a means of tapping into their memory, while encountering the stumps along the way. These tree trunks were cut down, burned, or had simply fallen, processes that speak of a time when this place was a productive field of native timber extraction. They also reminded us of a much longer and imperceptible history. Understanding these remnants of trees as repositories of memory and new life, where nascent trees take root and flourish, blurs boundaries between the living and the inert. We vividly recognised the interdependence of organisms and the becoming of a deep time.

We crafted a series of stoneware ceramic pieces where the textures of the stumps were imprinted by pressing the clay with our hands onto the tree trunk. At the same time, we documented the GPS coordinates of each stump, creating a grid of points that mapped out our routes through the woods. In this way, we archived the dead/living trees through a combination of photography, video , geolocation and stoneware.

Image 06: “Diagrama de Contacto” at MSSA, Santiago. 2023

Image 06: “Diagrama de Contacto” at MSSA, Santiago. 2023

The experience in Bosque Pehuén allowed us to open up a new dimension of what we had been investigating in Bosques de Fuego (Fire Forests). We found a grid in the woods formed by the remnants of trees that, in turn, built an internal network in the ecosystem. We discovered something that we were not looking for: a forest inside the forest.

At the opening of the current exhibition, new massive wildfires dominated the summer season of 2022-2023, consuming over 426 thousand hectares in Chile. These blazes predominantly impacted the regions where eucalyptus plantations still dominate the landscape experience. Bosques de Fuego (Fire Forests) is being showcased in the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende (MSSA), in Santiago fire -forest/">from March to August 2023.

About Agencia de Borde (agenciadeborde.com)

Agencia de Borde is an artistic research collective exploring and questioning, from an interdisciplinary perspective, the power structures that sustain contemporary notions of landscape . We use art as a medium of investigation and anthropology as a method of locating, studying and producing visual, audiovisual and written material. We work collaboratively, cooperating with various people and organisations. Agencia de Borde is based in Santiago de Chile and is formed by Sebastián Melo, Rosario Montero and Paula Salas.

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