A moving forest is the most succinct way to describe the installation created by Maria Loboda for dOCUMENTA (13). More than a dozen potted cypress trees, imposing in size, are amassed for this “mobile sculpture” and are being moved through the landscape during the exhibition period. At the inauguration of dOCUMENTA (13), the installation is positioned on an edge of the cross-shaped lawn in Kassel’s Auepark, a beautifully restored and maintained Baroque-era garden. During the one hundred days of the exhibition, the sculpture progressively moves until it reaches the Orangerie, located at a far end of the lawn.
In order to determine the path along which the sculpture will slowly advance, like an army, on the Orangerie, the artist consulted a military strategist. This relationship is hinted at by the sculpture’s title, This Work Is Dedicated to an Emperor, referring to the anonymous dedication in the Roman warfare treatise De re militari. For centuries, this treatise has been a seminal reference for military training and war strategies, including tactics of deceit. Much speculation has surrounded the author’s motives for leaving unnamed the emperor to whom he dedicated his work. Loboda’s interest in the dedication lies in its suggestion of the tenuous lines of complicity and mystery underlying warfare.
Her installation is also inspired by the warning of the three witches in Macbeth: “Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him.” Deeming it unconceivable that the forest of Birnam could move to his castle in Dunsinane, Macbeth presumes he will always wear the crown. However, his castle is suddenly besieged by soldiers disguised with boughs; Shakespeare’s moving forest is camouflage.
Loboda has used flowers and plants before as primary material for her sculptures. In A Guide to Insults and Misanthropy (2004), she sculpted a bouquet of flowers that convey astringent messages in the language of Victorian symbolism. In The Bad Boys of Harvard (2010), she placed a group of shrubs in public spaces throughout the city of Frankfurt/Main, changing their ocation at weekly intervals. The sculpture was inspired by the modern landscape movement in the U.S., ignited by a group of radical graduates of Harvard University.
Passing as a group of ornamental plants yet distinguishing itself from the natural, though groomed, environment of the Karlsaue park, Loboda’s nomadic sculpture is part of her ongoing investigation into beauty and threat. Her work explores ideas of conquering, both in terms of political occupation and of love—being taken, vanquished, moved—and different functions and forms of deception; hence the characteristic state of flux in the place and meaning of her sculptures. Immanent to this is the sense of threat that can be elicited by change. SH
Text by Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy