Beetle Convicted After Spruce Found Dead

North Rhine-Westphalia - Defective judgement in case of the biggest biological loss of forest in Germany, who is now held to account?

Germany witnesses the greatest biological loss of forests in history. Visiting my grandparents close to Cologne, I was observing and capturing the forest catastrophe from a young age on. Over the years, the green landscape turned light brown. And today, it turned into kilometre-long spruce log piles. It is said to be caused by the overpopulated bark beetle. However, climate change, planting of spruce monocultures, war reparations, political decisions and eventually human neglect and ignorance have all played a major part. The forest was transformed into a factory with the tree being the product - a product prone to diseases and natural events, such as the bark beetle infestation. To give an idea of the scale, the commercialised spruce tree is by far the most used and thus the most important wood in Europe.

In my installation, I approach the case of the spruce tree from different perspectives and unfold the complexity of its history to raise awareness about human destruction of ecosystems. The spruce forest extinction is only one of many examples that illustrates the gap between ethics and human intervention in shared environments. 

The coins with the minted “Kulturfrau” (culture woman) - who primarily planted the spruce monocultures - are arranged together with the aluminum works in a geometric grid, which is equivalent to the arrangement of the trees, each with a distance of 75 cm. The three yellow protruding container seals on the wall with the signatures of the "Big Three" (Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill) symbolize the decisions made on which the forest dieback is based. The heap of seals below them stands for the shipping of the beetle wood. Because around 80% of the spruce is containers packed in containers and sent into export. More than 50% of it goes to China, where it is processed and shipped back. The reason: the industrial effort to adapt the machines to the new mass of logs is too great. The ventilation tubes on the wooden pallet represent the commercialized tree trunk. The bark beetle trace under the pallet shows the prevalence as well as utility of the spruce wood, which is the essence of this catastrophe.

Léonie von Saldern, 2023

Photographs by Sunhyo Mastenbroek