Tree out of time
Old Tjikko by the Dane Nicolai Howalt contains 97 different prints of a single photograph of a tree once considered the oldest in the world. Named after its discoverer Leif Kullman’s Siberian husky, Old Tjikko is a Norwegian spruce that stands high on Swedish mountain Fulufjället. It is barely five meters high, slender and sparse in branches. The surrounding landscape is stark. Isolated and exposed to often harsh weather conditions, the tree looks fragile, but brave.
The piece of the fir above the ground is 500 to 600 years old. However, parts of the root system have been dated by scientists to 9,500 years. The part above the ground sprang from a shoot that grew out of that root system, after a trunk probably died elsewhere. Thanks to a natural process of vegetative cloning, the organism from which the tree originated remains alive, and within it you will find remnants from different eras.
Also from different periods, this time from the past century, come the 97 expired sheets of analogue photo paper on which Howalt reproduced his negative with the image of Old Tjikko over and over again. The first print, at the very front of the book, is called ‘Old Tjikko # 0, 2019’ and was printed on Rollei paper, Vintage FB glossy no. 111, best before 2020. This suggests that this is the most representative representation of the tree , the reference image. It suggests a slightly foggy day.
Depending on the condition of the paper, chemistry does wonderful things with that one image of that one tree. In hues ranging from thin pale to oppressive black, the fir seems to exist at different times, but also in different worlds, real and in fantasy. The beautiful silver leaf edge also announces each new variant with a short, bright flash.
Freakish silver halides in the paper create the most magical effects: moons and stars, floating shimmers in the semi-darkness or something that looks like a meteor shower. In a burnt-out print, printed on Gevaert paper, expiration year 1949, Old Tjikko seems to hold out amid war and total destruction. And so this book does evoke more ideas about time and temporality, about image and materiality.
Gradually the series acquires a transcendent character and the tree, as it were, comes to stand outside of time. The more prints you see, the more Old Tjikko becomes a symbol: of regeneration, of survival, of eternity. Even though we know he will die too.