It took some time to find the place, which necessitated a wander through the park until eventually I spotted some metal and lumber in the distance. It was a bit different from what I had expected. Rather than finding a person suspended from the tree, I found it partially wrapped in sheet metal, looking a bit like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Perhaps it was a mistranslation from the Finnish, but it was less a harness, as described in the programme, and more a suit of armour, as the title suggests. It was, nevertheless, a striking image and a good choice of tree: splitting quite low with many branches, resulting with a more interesting shape than a simple tube.
As I watched Laitinen drilling holes through the sheet metal in order to rivet them together, I wondered whether this process would be hurting the tree at all. A suit of armour is usually meant to protect, but I question its efficacy in this case. A tree already has bark. This suit creates a barrier and confusion around the tree. I saw a bee buzzing around it, which didn’t seem to be able to find a way of getting to the tree. A dog walking with his human seemed confused and skittish, perhaps by the presence of this strange structure or by the activity happening around it. I imagined that it would prevent squirrels from climbing, if any happened to have nests in its upper limbs.
A question arose, of what relation this installation had with performance, being part of a performance festival. The object itself and its construction disrupted the behaviour of passers-by, human and non-. In a sense, one could view this activity as sorts of “performance” but I feel caution is necessary when describing anything in this way. Such a statement needs to be bracketed and made clear exactly what is meant when talking about something as “performance.” An installation surely is not the same as the other kinds of performances in the festival. And what of the tree? Would we even regard it as a “performer” without any human intervention, even if it is already doing so much on its own?
Returning on Sunday to view the progress made on the piece, I found the tree wrapped several meters higher than when I last saw it. Laitinen and assistant were no longer around. Activity on it had ceased. Instead, a woman was taking a photo of it with her tablet. A couple walked up to it and inspected the seams (earlier in the week I was also curious if the edges of the sheet metal would be sharp, but this did not seem to be the case). A girl took a picture of it with her smartphone while a man read the didactic panel tied to a neighbouring tree. A young man posed, peeking out from behind it, while his friend took a picture (again, with a smartphone). I kept noticing technology popping up in relation to this installation. Ultimately, the suit of armour served to isolate it and to make it stand out against the surrounding nature, becoming something of a spectacle. I wondered: If it were to be left in place permanently, would the tree eventually burst free as it grew, popping the rivets and shedding the metal sheeting like a layer of skin, or would it become strangled by it?