Migration Hugo Worthy, The City Gallery, Leicester
In this age of porous borders and territorial fluidity trees represent an earlier kind of geographical stability. Their longevity and immobility speak of the feudal period when almost all individuals, families and communities had sustained relationships with their own plots of land.
Today our high levels of mobility oblige us to live across a wide range of environments, shedding our links to the land. In this collection of photographs, the trees are stripped of their heritage and cast in the role of itinerant in the global city.
As with all those arriving in the city their identity is partly subsumed by the urban environment and its identity. In some of the photographs the trees have been almost entirely swallowed up by the architecture of the city, only the tips of the branches visible above the buildings.
Kantonen shares the English sentimentality about trees engendered by the Romantic poets. In England trees represent some prelapsarian state. Britain was, after all once a forested island, and today their presence allays our anxieties about the hyperbolic curve of technological and social change that engulfs us.
These trees are memorials to some ostensibly better age, the countryside dream of the 21st century’s city inhabitant. There is something optimistic about their survival; a battered Romantic ideal rooted on the edges of the city. More cynically corporate patrons behind urban planning have harnessed these associations of arboriculture to soften the image of the financial districts. It is the more dolorous specimens in the darker corners of the city that seem to be greeted by Kantonen’s camera with most affection.
The trees demonstrate the inescapable gravity of the modern city. Across the planet rural environments divest their populations to the ever-expanding metropolises. As this vast rural to urban emigration continues a history of territorial identity is replaced by municipal chauvinism.
Kantonen’s trees both illustrate and punctuate this tidal shift towards a post-territorial city society. They both mark the end of our direct relationship to the land we inhabit and they also provide a point of connection to a time when the land belonged in some sense to us.