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Bilden av trä: Föreställningar om levande material i en postindustriell tid
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Art History.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6218-4966
2017 (Swedish)In: Bebyggelsehistorisk tidskrift, ISSN 0349-2834, no 74, p. 8-26Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The article deals with the paradox of a modern-day phenomenon: that wood, which represents authenticity and sustainable development, is communicated via visual media that prevent the tangible experience of physically handling wood.

One crucial question is the consequences this may have for the built environment and cultural heritage of wood. The article argues that visual representations of wood influence how real wood is handled, and that this cultural use of wood in an abstract sense influences our values when making decisions about historic timber buildings. In current architecture, bare wood often takes the form of a decorative surface with no structural purpose, used only to convey various notions of wood. We must avoid taking these notions for granted, and be more aware of their effects and how they are used.

To understand this process we may hypothesize that a change in what wood represents has taken place in the post-industrial era. The study uses historical perspectives to identify 20th-century ideas and concepts of wood, showing that perceptions of wood changed through the rational ideas of modernity, which made wood anonymous and marginalized. The article sug- gests that over recent decades wood has devel- oped an identity as a unique, living material. Several trees estimated to be more than a thou- sand years old have received media attention, which shows the ability of trees to encapsulate time. These trees are often given names, such as Adonis in Bosnia for example, which is known as “Europe’s oldest living inhabitant.” Draw- ing attention to unique aspects of trees follows current advertising trends, where products and brands are given identities too.

The development of dendrochronology has also lent a historical dimension to wood. This aspect of time is enhanced by the protracted process of tree growth, making wood a suitable material for the slow craft movement and hip- ster culture.

One contribution to the animate natural- ness of wood is the rapid development of digi- tal photography, which allows professional and amateur photographers alike to produce high- quality pictures. Distributing images over social media takes place smoothly and quickly via the Internet. Thus wood can be shown in high-reso- lution, both in print and digital form, making it look freshly hewn and vivid.

By analysing contemporary media, which presents wood in various cultural contexts, we can identify how notions of sustainable devel- opment and authenticity are conveyed. This paradoxical handling of wood without actually touching it shows that wood possesses a cultural strength that extends far beyond its structural and practical uses.

As an example the article discusses the Swed- ish medieval church at Södra Råda in Västergöt- land. After the building was destroyed by fire in 2001, it was decided to rebuild the church using medieval techniques. The reconstruction became a media success that spread via the In- ternet. Paradoxically, the virtual version of Södra Råda became more real to the public than the physical church. This came about by presenting painstaking woodworking skills as the church rose slowly, like a phoenix from the ashes. The process was documented and spread via the In- ternet and elsewhere.

To conclude, virtual and mediated wood, consumed visually, expresses a strong yet underrated cultural discourse. With greater aware- ness, virtual wood can become a resource in the struggle to preserve historic timber buildings, which are often threatened today by globalised economic progress, in which cities compete by building landmark architecture. Rational and logical arguments, picked from the modernist agenda of the 20th-century, are often used to legitimise this form of redevelopment. In this context it is hard to do justice to historic timber buildings, given that they are viewed and discussed in terms of values created by modernity. The results of the study show how wood is culturally impregnated with new and varied meanings. Broadly, the post-industrial, irrational use of wood may be seen as rehabilitating a ma- terial damaged by the rationalist forces of mo- dernity. In handicrafts too, wood is appearing as an unruly queer material, carved and freely cut.

Is a language taking shape here, stemming from the wood itself? 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala, 2017. no 74, p. 8-26
Keyword [en]
visual culture, material culture, cultural heritage
National Category
Architecture Art History Cultural Studies
Research subject
History of Art
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-336771OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-336771DiVA, id: diva2:1166929
Available from: 2017-12-17 Created: 2017-12-17 Last updated: 2018-01-08Bibliographically approved

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