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Forest Fragments – A Walk in the Woods

Hanna Chorell writes about her sonic experience of walking in the woods as a method of artistic research.

Hanna Chorell

I walked in the forest. I touched the deep green moss, the bark of the pines. I heard the sounds of a nearby school, the voices of children in the school yard. I saw a woodpecker peck-peck-pecking an old dead pine. I heard machines building a tram track, digging ground, and moving gravel. Their beeps, clonks, and motors. The city was everywhere.

The pressure to build more apartments in a growing city is in direct conflict with the preservation of non-human habitats. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Stansvik forest, Helsinki. It has never been clear-cut and its oldest pine trees are at least 400 years old. It has a wide variety of species and several endangered natural features, such as the small natural spring that was finally quoted as the reason to halt the logging of parts of the forest in early November 2023. The locals have been fighting to preserve it for 20 years. In early 2022 they were able to halt the city’s decision to build houses on most of the forest. The city of Helsinki is currently re-evaluating the plan to accommodate the forest’s high natural value, which is very unusual since the plans were already made and decided. However, the logging of the western and southern parts of the forest started in October 2023. The purpose was to build several roads behind and around new buildings on the west side of the forest. A group of activists [1] climbed up trees and managed to severely slow down the logging until the city decided to halt it completely. The activists’ selfless action of civil disobedience saved many trees.

Land use change, such as clearing forest to build houses causes biodiversity loss, which threatens the planetary system’s ability to adapt to changes in the system [2]. In Finland this deforestation is driven mainly by building and farming [3]. Old growth forests, such as Stansvik, are key ecosystems in supporting biodiversity, because they are habitats to species that can only thrive in old or decaying trees that cannot be found in high enough quantities in forests that have grown after clear-cutting [4]. Biodiversity in Finland cannot be protected by anyone else but the decision-makers in Finland. Stansvik forest can only be protected by the city of Helsinki.

Our homes and services take up space that used to be something else. Any forest in a city is often referred to as “local nature” [lähiluonto] to be enjoyed by recreational activities within it and as an aesthetic feature. While this is important for human well-being, it also creates a hierarchy where the value of the forest is determined by its usefulness to humans. What of the value of the forest in itself and as a habitat for non-human life? 

I walked on the trunk of a pine over two hundred years old. It was felled at the end of October 2023. I shouldn’t be able to walk on it. Not this way. What right do we have to cut down a tree that was here before us? What does it feel like to cut such a tree? Empathy. What of the insects, moss, lichen, and birds in this place? I am an intruder here. My home is two kilometers east. My habitat is a building made 60 years ago. Their habitat is a forest “made” hundreds of years ago. My habitat is made by destroying their habitats. They are powerless to resist us. They need a place to live as much as I do.

I went to the forest to record the sounds of the forest. What I heard and recorded instead were the sounds of the city around the forest and the sounds of me walking, touching the forest, and vocalizing in the forest. Birdsong and the wind were the only non-human induced sounds I heard and recorded. Timothy Morton argues that we are stuck in romanticizing non-human life [5]. I chose the aspects of my experience of walking in the forest that I am sharing here both in writing and sound. I have chosen nice things like trees, moss and children and not-so-nice things like machines, felled trees, and destruction. I am trying to construct the forest truthfully.

With this text and its soundtrack, I perform the forest [6]. I have left the means of performance visible and audible. It is visible as the letters of the text and in the minds of the reader and audible as the soundtrack. I left the recording device and the editing program audible in the fragmented crudeness of the editing. In Karen Barad’s terms [7] I performed the forest and didn’t hide the apparatuses of the performance. My aim is to show how the auditory experience blurs boundaries between physical places. In the case of Stansvik the physical boundaries on land are a result of human action. The houses and roads surrounding it weren’t always there and it is easy to see, where the tree ends, and the road begins. The auditory experience traverses the trees and the roads. The forest is not outside, and the city inside. It is clear when we listen to the sounds. The forest is in the city, city is in the forest and no clear boundaries exist between them. Nature with a capital N does not exist, we are all in this together.

“Instead, ecological criticism must politicize the aesthetic. We choose this poisoned ground. We will be equal to this senseless actuality. Ecology may be without nature. But it is not without us.” [8]

My walk in the forest focusing on the sounds of it is a method of artistic research. By not merely walking but participating in the soundscape I perform (with) the environment [9]. The city surrounding Stansvik cannot be cropped out of the soundscape. A video, text or a photo can be cropped to exclude the human sphere to show only “nature”. However, the fact is that there is nowhere on earth human influence does not reach. The notion of untouched nature is a phantasy, and it is wishful thinking to present it as such. We as humans are also “nature”, we are of the world. The big question humankind must solve is how to balance our needs with the needs of other life forms on the planet, how to live an ethical life within the boundaries of the planet. We have a right to live and satisfy our needs, but so do other life forms. By performing the forest as a soundscape, I am trying to avoid romanticizing it and to build a relationship to it that is based on the current material reality of myself, the forest and the city.


[1] Suojellaan Stansvik -movement, https://stansvik.info/

[2] See. eg. Richardson et al. “Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries”

[3] See Assmuth et al. Metsäkadon ilmastohaitta ja hillinnän ohjauskeinot Suomessa

[4] See eg. Gilhen-Baker et al. ”Old Growth Forests and Large Old Trees as Critical Organisms Connecting Ecosystems and Human Health. A Review”

[5] Morton, Ecology without Nature, 125

[6] See eg. Arlander “Becoming Juniper – Performing Landscape as Artistic Research”

[7] Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway

[8] Morton, Ecology without Nature, 205

[9] See eg. Arlander “Becoming Juniper – Performing Landscape as Artistic Research”


Arlander, Annette. ”Becoming Juniper – Performing Landscape as Artistic Research”. Nivel05, The Publication Series of the Theatre Academy Helsinki, 2015. https://nivel.teak.fi/becoming-juniper/becoming-juniper-performing-landscape-as-artistic-research-annette-arlander/.

Assmuth, Aino, Lintunen, Henrik Wejberg, Kauko Koikkalainen, Jussi Uusivuori, ja Antti Miettinen. Metsäkadon ilmastohaitta ja hillinnän ohjauskeinot Suomessa. Vsk. 2022. Luonnonvara- ja biotalouden tutkimus 31. Luonnonvarakeskus, 2022.

Barad, Karen Michelle. Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Gilhen-Baker, Melinda, Valentina Roviello, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, ja Giovanni N. Roviello. ”Old Growth Forests and Large Old Trees as Critical Organisms Connecting Ecosystems and Human Health. A Review”. Environmental Chemistry Letters 20, nro 2 (huhtikuuta 2022): 1529–38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10311-021-01372-y.

Morton, Timothy. Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard university press, 2007.

Richardson, Katherine, Will Steffen, Wolfgang Lucht, Jørgen Bendtsen, Sarah E. Cornell, Jonathan F. Donges, Markus Drüke, ym. ”Earth beyond Six of Nine Planetary Boundaries”. Science Advances 9, nro 37 (15. syyskuuta 2023): eadh2458. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.adh2458.

Ecological Thinking

This is the course blog for K-JI-11-23A – Ecological Thinking. In 2023-24, we explore “Vertical Ecologies” by visual arts, film and performance. The course is co-organized by Giovanna Esposito Yussif and Samir Bhowmik. Previously, in 2022-23, we organized a year-long collaborative research studio with Aarhus University, DK, Research Pavilion 2023 and Helsinki Biennial 2023 on the themes of environmental data, sensing and contamination.

Header image credit: Abelardo Gil-Fournier and Jussi Parikka / Seed, Image, Ground (2020)- With permission from the authors.

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