Forest Complex: art and the regeneration of forests

5 July 2024 | By: Newcastle University | 4 min read

Newcastle University Professor and celebrated artist Uta Kögelsberger’s latest project has launched at the BTV Stadtforum, as part of the Programme Inn Situ, in Innsbruck, Austria.

Following on from her 2022 work Fire Complex, Forest Complex shines a light on both the natural and human-assisted recovery of forests in the aftermath of devastation. Like a seedling sprouting from the ashes of disaster, Forest Complex brings together research, photography, video, and sound to tell the stories of damaged forests and garner hope for the future. Discover more about the different art installations that make up Forest Complex and the inspirations behind them in this blog.



  1. What is Forest Complex?

  2. What does the installation consist of?

  3. Learn more about Forest Complex


What is Forest Complex?

The exhibition Forest Complex brings together photography, video and sound to explore humanity's impact on forests, and our attempts to recover them.

It follows on from Prof Kögelsberger’s earlier project, Fire Complex: her response to the 2020 Castle Fire that contributed to the largest wildfire season ever recorded in California. Initially started by lightning and exacerbated by drought, forest mismanagement and bark beetle infestations, the fire burned 174,000 acres of forest – including Kögelsberger’s own cabin - and destroyed an estimated 14% of the native giant sequoia population: trees that took centuries to grow were burned, felled, and destroyed within hours.

Kögelsberger's new project, Forest Complex, investigates the pressures Alpine forests have come under in the wake of human-made climate change: from the scale and scope of the mammoth task of recovering damaged arboreal regions via the natural phenomenon that occurs as nature heals, to turning a spotlight on the people affected by the loss of forests, those whose livelihoods hinge on the health of the forests, and those tasked with taking care of them against the looming threat of climate change.


What does the installation consist of?


A three-channel video installation following the clear-up process of the Haselbach Gorge in Fügen, Austria. The region had been subjected to climate change-related extreme storms that swept across the Alps in the summer of 2023 devastating an estimated 2000 hectares of forest and leaving 3.3 million cubic meters of damaged wood in its wake. If left, the uprooted and wind-snapped trees would have increased the risk of bark beetle infestations, river obstructions, and mudslides. The video follows the two-month process of clearing the wood out of the 145-meter gorge.



Video still, 'Clearance', Forest Complex at Inn Situ, 2024



This video follows the next stage of destruction and reconstruction of the storm-damaged wood as it is turned into a marketable product. Each region in Austria has a set allowance of cubic metres of wood that can be cut per year. After the storms, the annual allowance was exceeded by 80% and the abundance of wood caused the market to flood. This caused its price to plummet 25-35% per cubic metre, with a devastating impact on the economy and livelihoods of the forest owners.



Video still, 'Woodworks', Forest Complex at Inn Situ, 2024


Ne Me Quitte Pas

A single-channel video in which a girl sings the titular song to damaged trees. This playful piece relays a reflection on humankind’s often misplaced belief in our influence over the control we are able to exercise over our environment. It is a playful interpretation of research that claims that regular exposure to music – particularly classical music – can help plants grow faster and develop a stronger immune system.



Video still, 'Ne Me Quitte Pas', Forest Complex at Inn Situ, 2024



A single-channel video that focuses on the impact on people within this project. This section consists of a series of videoportraits of those whose lives have been directly subjected to the climate-related impact on forests. Forest owners and workers in the Alpine regions have faced challenges from the loss of forests, the dangers of forest clearance, increased pressure on their habitats, economic pressures, and overwhelming workloads.


FromBlog_ForestComplex_PortraitsPhotography, 'Portraits', Forest Complex at Inn Situ, 2024



This two-channel sound installation is based on new research that shows that when under duress, plants emit ultrasounds to alert others of their plight. Inaudible to the human ear, these sounds can be picked up by other plants and insects. The installation features ultrasound recordings of a tree that is subjected to pine beetle infestation, recording the sounds it makes as it is robbed of its life supply.



Installation view, 'Treework', Forest Complex at Inn Situ, 2024



A 35mm slideshow installation that archives the aftermath of the devastating Storm Vaia in East Tirol, Kals Valley. This storm downed an estimated 15 million trees from Italy to Croatia in a matter of minutes and resulted in 2.1 million cubic meters of damaged wood in Austria. To cover financial losses and stem the risk of pine beetle infestations, the tree trunks were cut from their roots. Five years after the storm, Roots documents the process of these trunks as they are being reclaimed by nature.



Installation view, 'Roots', Forest Complex at Inn Situ, 2024


Some Kind of Love

An ongoing body of photographic works initiated in 2008 that documents trees that have entered into relationships with one another. It visualises the many sentient ways in which non-human entities interact and communicate with one another in ways that we are only starting to be able to understand.

In one photograph we see a Giant Sequoia wrapping itself around an Incense Cedar in what is called a ‘competition-symbiotic relationship’, a relationship where neither species draws any specific benefits from the interaction. Eventually, the Giant Sequoia will completely enwrap the Incense Cedar.

Some images show the various stages of inosculation: the process of a naturally occurring phenomenon where trunks, branches, or roots of two trees grow together. The term inosculation derives from Latin and can be translated as meaning “to kiss”, to “touch closely”, and “to union”. Some of these relationships are mutualistic and each species reaps benefits from being in close proximity with the other.

Finally, we see what are called ‘nurse logs’ and ‘nurse stumps’ that facilitate the growth of new seedlings, by providing water, mycorrhizae, and nutrients as they decay. With new knowledge and understanding that is continuously emerging about the way trees communicate with one another, below and above ground, this series of images becomes continuously re-inscribed with new meanings.



Installation view, 'Some Kind of Love', Nurse Stump, Forest Complex at Inn Situ, 2024


Learn more about Forest Complex

Through its empathic engagements with factual research, Forest Complex is a reminder of how critical it is that we throw all our resources and efforts at focusing on preserving what is left and recovering what needs to be recovered. It is a reminder of the urgency to care. Without care, there is no incentive to change.

To discover more about how Forest Complex was made, watch the video below:



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All images credited to Uta Kögelsberger


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