Stranger to the Trees
installation, 2020-2021

The multimedia project explores the complementary coexistence of microplastics and trees as carbon sinks. How do trees and microplastics coexist in forests, capturing carbon in the time of the climate crisis? Combining video, interactive sound and sculpture, Stranger to the Trees queries the response of forest ecosystems to the ubiquitous and irrevocable dispersal of microplastics around the Earth. What we consider to be our environment unequivocally and ubiquitously contains plastic. Plastics have been found to be present even at the outskirts of human reach: at the bottom of the Mariana trench, in the rain, clouds and atmosphere. While plastic can be detrimental to the quality of an ecosystem, plastic pollution is also a carbon sink, storing carbon and keeping carbon dioxide and methane out of the atmosphere. This project builds on ongoing artistic research by Dr Kat Austen (UK/DE) on the topics of microplastic and the climate crisis. Austen is focussing on the coexistence of birch trees with microplastics and developing artistic and DIY scientific research methods to explore this. The birch is a pioneer species, colonising land disrupted by human, following human and industrial pollution. Not demanding of the soil, birch withstands both full sunlight and low temperatures. These characteristics define the birch as a perfect pioneer in the plastisphere. The artistic research focusses on birch groves in forests between Berlin, Germany and Wroclaw, Poland and will include microscopy and histology of tree parts, field recordings of audio and video from forests where microplastic and trees cohabit to examine the incorporation and rejection between plastics and trees with the constant consideration of the possibility for complementarity and coexistence.

Kat Austen (DE/UK)

Kat Austen (DE/UK) is a person. In her artistic practice, she focusses on environmental issues. She creates sculptural and new media installations, performances and participatory work. Austen’s practice is underpinned by extensive research and theory, and driven by a motivation to explore how to move towards a more socially and environmentally just future. Working from her studio in Berlin, Austen is currently Artist in Residence at the Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences, University College London and Senior Teaching Fellow at UCL Arts and Sciences. She is a member of the bbk, an inaugural member of the London Creative Network and is co-founder of the DIY Hack the Panke collective in Berlin. Austen’s field research has included a voyage around the Canadian High Arctic as Artist in the Arctic 2017 for Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute (University of Cambridge) for her project The Matter of the Soul. In 2018 Austen was selected as inaugural Cultural Fellow in Art and Science at the Cultural Institute, University of Leeds for the same project. Austen has been awarded residencies internationally, including with NYU Shanghai, ArtOxygen Mumbai, LAStheatre, the Clipperton Project and Utter! Spoken word. Austen has exhibited at Bonhams Art Gallery, London; The Polar Museum, Cambridge; Kuehlhaus, Berlin, among others, and her work is held internationally in private collections. She has performed around the globe, including at Opera North, Leeds; Fusion Festival, Berlin and Headlands Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

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