What is BranchArt ?
BranchArt is an initiative of COTA Art For Society, that aims at sensitising about different subjects, such as cultural diversity, environmental protection but also social integration.
It is a participatory project to which anyone can participate from all over the world. The idea is quite simple but the different criteria which led to define the way how to make people participate to it is quite complex.
You can participate in different ways: as a creator if you have a message to transmit, if you want your art to be seen in public in an entirely free way, still without being too transgressive, just slightly.
You just need to pick up a broken branch in a park or a forest, clean it a bit, paint or draw or carve on it and replant it somewhere else.
Or you can simply contribute by being simply a viewer or a « transmitter » of the messages and beauties created by others by taking photos and uploading them on the collaborative map and identifying the place where you found it. Or if you really like one of them you can also take it with you and replant it somewhere else so that you can see it more often.
You mentioned that the goal is to sensitise about social issues. What are these more precisely and how does BranchArt respond to them?
COTA has been working on several cooperative projects where we use visual arts as a communication tool both to enhance consciousness about or natural and urban environment but also as a tool to help social integration by offering visual creative tools to people to express themselves or to understand better contemporary and urgent issues. We transmit these tools and practices through two main channels: by organising workshops and by diffusing them on the web as open source educational and learning tools.
While doing so, we are constantly confronted to two main difficulties. Within local workshops when we work most often with people of disadvantaged social or economical background such as refugees to people with mental handicaps. They are very often eager to learn new skills, to create arts or crafts objects and happy to leave the workshop with their self-made creations. When I animate such workshops, at the end, I often have contradictory feeling. On the one hand I am happy for having contributed to the transmission of new skills. But, on the other hand, I am also often frustrated by the idea that the ideas they have, all the things that they want to say or share stays within the four walls of the workshop and within their often isolated little homes and lives. There are plenty of messages that are worth to be heard, that need to be formulated to be heard. Our projects are financed but the European Union and these workshops have been mainly organised in the framework of social integration into local communities. Integration has to involve action and interaction. It certainly shouldn’t mean that newcomers simply must learn the rules of the local culture and society, they also need to be encouraged to share and valorise their knowledge, their skills and their own cultural references. The small branch is support to say out-loud that one has to say and to diffuse it by planting them somewhere that one chooses him or her or themselves. On the other hand, it is also a small symbolic gesture, intended to be a little bit poetical too: it is an allegory for migration and migrant-hood and migrants and refugees themselves as the broken branches find new places somewhere else where they can be seen and appreciated as they magnified with colours and drawings. One can leave carved, written or drawn massages on it about any issue: where are we from ? Who we are ? Who we are not ? Our desires, our fears and so on.
We hope to launch a little movement of the re-plantation of repainted and up cycled broken branches.
And this is how we intend to respond to the other difficulty that we are constantly confronted to, namely how to grab the attention through communication by distant, online media. We call for action and we want to create an online community based a simple, easily feasible gesture.
And how does BranchArt respond to environmental issues?
In different ways… Social and environmental issues are not really severable. By environment, we understand both our natural environment composed of trees, plants, insects and other animals but also humans, urban spaces, etc. We have rules to respect everywhere and not only us, humans, but the whole universe has rules. Since medieval times, thinkers and scientists have been fascinated by the perfect organisation of certain species of animals such as ants or bees and by discovering a whole social system in the organisation that they thought to be unique for human being.
We invite people to collecte and reuse broken, dead branches which is also a call to go out, take a walk, be attentive to details… While creating something valuable out of these dead, worthless objects, we are obliged to manipulate them, observe them with our hands and understand better, without actually talking by feeling them their original value and their complexity.
We also invite people to create their own colours and pigments with natural ingredients so that the replanted broken branches does not harm their environment. We have a growing collection on the project’s page of recipes how to make one’s own paints - tempera - using simply egg yolk or egg white, a little bit of water and spices or other colourful, natural ingredients. Creating one’s own paints is not only ecological but also economical if you look at quality paints’ prises. By the way, the natural tempera can be also used on other media too not only wood. It is an important point too as people with difficult economical background can create too with almost no investment.
The use of natural paint is also a condition to participate to the project to preserve plants and animals who might get in touch with the object.
Previously, you used the term « slightly transgressive » to qualify your approach. It means that we don’t really have the right to plant branches wherever we want to….
Of course not and it is something that can certainly be controversial. But it is part of the game. And sometimes rules and restrictions are good to be questioned too. You may fall upon a painted branch in your neighbourhood and you may not like it: you are free to remove it, to throw it away. This is a risk that the artists have to take by leaving their creations outside, just like bad weather and rains that can wash off the natural paint, dogs who might take the branch to play with it or pee on it… All these possible and plausible events are part of the object’s story…
The process is by the way inspired by street art which is transgressive by definition in spite of its more and more widespread institutional and event funded use. But, unlike graffitis, these branches doesn’t represent any definitive change, it’s an ephemeral approach to artistic expression. You don’t need to repaint walls or to make any effort to remove them if you don’t agree with their presence.
So slightly transgressive means that the process doesn’t correspond to norms but it is entirely harmless.
But, of course if you want to try out this method in more framed circumstances, for instance, not as an individual but if you are an organisation and work with people whom you want to initiate to this practice, you can also ask permission from the concerned stakeholders in advance to « expose » the artworks in a specific public space or a park.
But can you ensure in such a participatory project that people use natural and not toxic paint ?
No, but I believe that anyone who is willing to participate to this movement also understands the stakes and will respect the rules. But, even if it happens that people use acrylic paint for instance, it is not more harmful or dangerous than than plastic rubbish thrown away in the street that represents a potential danger for animals or any object and furniture treated with industrial paint and varnish that we have all in our homes.
And again, if you set up a workshop as an organisation, it’s the facilitator’s responsibility to make people use natural paint: the recipes are at their disposal on the webpage dedicated to the project but also on FaceBook and Instagram.
What do you hope from the BranchArt project regarding its scope and impact ?
As for the scope, I have no idea. We hope to have many interactions and shares of photos on the collective map of BranchArt. This will a tool also to monitor the outreach of the project.
As for the impact, for now, I think it can be measurable rather on individual levels, through the testimony of people with whom we are trying out this this practice within workshops. I think that in addition to raising awareness about environmental issues and thinking about how to interact with local community through visual self-expression there can be many other beneficial « side effects » such improving orientation and digital skills through the use of the collaborative maps and many other. In fact, we only have an initial idea, but this kind of art projects evolve thanks to people, their ideas and their creativity so it’s only a starting point that can lead us into many different directions and of course, create new connections and enriching and inspiring encounters...
More complex technique can also be used such as graving and lacquering and the pieces of wood can be used as interior design or turned into jewellery:
Recipes for natural paint
The following recipes contain natural, up-cycled materials such as spices, chalk, eventually food colouring.
On the images from left to right, you can follow the transformation of each ingredient into paint and see how it will look like on untreated natural wood`. For each, you will need approximately the same quantity of :
water (you can use a coffee or a tee spoon depending on large the surface is that you want to paint on)
egg yolk ( after having removed the membrane with the help of a sieve)
and one ot the following spices or materials: