Alien Forest

2021

Single channel video

Duration: 00:11:31

Alien Forest is part of an ongoing project, inspecting the impact of the Cypriot natural landscape by a variety of colonisers. This first stage focuses on the British colonisation of the island and its forest policies. The Forest Department was established by the British Colonial Government in Cyprus in 1879, a year after the annexation of the island to the British empire, to protect and restore the “destroyed” landscape of the island. However, colonial forestry, much like economic botany, saw the newly annexed colony’s natural resources with an aim to increase Britain’s prosperity.

The colonial administration surveyed and mapped the island in terms of its commercial value, demarcated state forest areas, attempted to control goat grazing, undertook afforestation and reforestations, but also planted non-native trees, such as eucalyptus trees and acacias, which were brought from Australia, another British colony. The purpose of these alien trees was to sanitise areas from diseases such as malaria, create agricultural land, provide firewood, but also for “aesthetic reasons” (Hamilton, 1925).

Alien Forest presents an alternative perspective on colonial forest policies, utilising deep neural networks. For this video, forestry reports and articles, written while Cyprus belonged to the British Empire (1878 -1960), have been used as training data for a GPT-2 natural language processing model, which in turn generated new (often surreal) text based on the reports. In addition, the artist visited various sites, such as the Dasoudi area and the Akrotiri peninsula in Limassol, where colonial plantations of invasive alien tree species still exist and continue to impact native ecosystems, to create a photographic dataset of the landscape. The dataset was fed to a GAN model, which in turn generated new, imaginary forest landscapes.

The project will continue to expand and explore historical and current links between the natural landscape and other types of colonisation, such as local nationalist cultural imperialism, and private for-profit enterprises.