Location: Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
Date: November, 2011
Project: Make a forest
Concept: Frank Bruggeman with Peter Zwaal
Anne van der Zwaag and Joanna van der Zanden (office – make a forest, Amsterdam)
Raquel Schwartz, Sina Ribak, Marcela Rivera (Kiosko Galería, Santa Cruz)
Eric Roelen and Jannie Hoveling (production)
Lucie Pindat and Vera Tomberg (assistance)
Synergy Ltda and municipality Santa Cruz (sponsoring)
CONFESSION TREE (Confesionario del árbol)
A recurrent theme in my work is the ‘invisible’ nature in urban areas. For the Make a forest (Hagamos un bosque) event on November 12, 2011 in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, which had to stress the importance of forest conservation, I thought it more appropriate to focus on the visible nature within this city. As it turned out I was allowed to make a temporary installation next to a tree that is probably known to all inhabitants of Santa Cruz. I am talking of the large toborochi tree on the Manzana Uno Square in the city centre. It is a magnificent toborochi tree, that carries all kind of scars which are the result of city life. Some branches have been cut off. People have carved the names of their loved ones into the tree. Names of political parties and trade unions have been painted onto the trunk. The tree has enwrapped some forgotten strings of Christmas lights. For some unknown purpose nails have been driven into the trunk. The toborochi (Chorisia speciosa) plays an important part in old Bolivian legends. The amphora-shaped trunk of the toborochi reminds people of pregnant women. You could say that the toborochi is a motherlike tree: it gives life, it is full of love and it is merciful. As the toborochi is indigenous to this part of Bolivia it was also chosen as the symbol of the Make a forest event in Santa Cruz.
Against this emblematic and well-known city tree I built a simple wooden confession box, like the confessionals you can find in catholic churches. Cruceños (inhabitants of Santa Cruz) were invited to enter the confessional. Inside the confessional they were confronted with three questions, written on a piece of plywood board: (1) if they had ever sawn or cut down a tropical hardwood tree illegally, (2) if they had ever bought home or garden furniture made of illegally obtained tropical hardwood or used such wood for floor covering or panelling purposes, (3) if they had ever committed any other act of violence, abuse or negligence against tropical hardwood trees. Depending on the answer the following penances were suggested: (1) whipping yourself with a ‘peji’, that is a small braided whip made of coconut or palm leaves, (2) planting a ‘redemption’ tree, (3) hugging the nearest tree outside the confessional. For those who wanted to show their remorse by flagellation three whips were available. Redemption trees could be obtained free of charge at a stall outside the confessional. In total 200 small trees, covering 15 different indigenous species, were available. These seedlings were provided by a small arboriculturist company, about an hour’s drive away from Santa Cruz. Labels were attached to these small trees, urging people to take good care of them.
To Cruceños who entered the confessional it was made clear that the toborochi tree on the Manzana Uno Square would surely understand all human weakness. After all this particular tree had dealt with humans all his life and had never seen the forest. Between 16.00 and 22.00 hours the toborochi tree took confession from approximately 250 Cruceños. Reading the plywood board with the questions and the suggested penances took most people about a minute. Some people however stayed inside the confessional much longer, which probably meant that they were really confessing to the tree. As could be expected most people who left the confessional either chose to hug a tree or adopt a redemption tree. Some did both. Some courageous people whipped themselves, or let themselves be whipped, with one of the pejis. A professional photographer took pictures of people confessing and taking penance. Every so often these pictures were printed and then pinned to a large board outside the confessional. At the end of the event almost all the seedlings were taken and got a new home somewhere in the city of Santa Cruz.