Białowieża Forest is the last remaining primeval forest in mainland Europe. The majority of it is a natural forest, which means it has developed without any human interference. It is also the only natural site in Poland that has been placed on the UNESCO global heritage list.
Formally, one sixth of the Polish part of the Białowieża Forest is a national park. The rest is subject to the principles of forest management. Białowieża has became a site of conflict, due to different visions of how to manage this area. It’s a conflict between two worldviews, one fighting to preserve the forest for its ecological and biological values, the other seeing it as a source of material that can be sold. In a global context, this conflict is a part of discussion about our future in a world of dwindling resources. It’s a call for us to understand the ways our planet has been radically transformed by people, as described in the concepts of the anthropocene era, a new geological periodera defined by the impact of humans on natural processes.
Karolina Grzywnowicz’s work connects radically different ways of understanding the value of Białowieża Forest, looking at it from both local and global perspectives. Still Life combines data about auctions hosted by the National Forest authority – including the prices of the Forest wood – with data documenting the scale of the logging. The contrast between the market value of the forest’s raw material and its value as a natural forest, a place of heritage and common good, is represented by a pallet made out of black oak. Often called the Polish ebony, it get its dark hue from being soaked for hundreds of years in water or in extreme humidity. Still Life uses certified wood from an oak that was growing between 560 and 650 AD. After felling, it was lying under water for more than 1350 years. This expensive and luxurious material has been turned into a trivial item of low value, commenting on ways the Białowieża Forest wood is used.
In a broader context, Still Life is a statement about the power and ways it constructs heritage – both cultural and natural – as well as ways of managing it, the result of current demands and networks of relations and influences. It is also an attempt to draw attention to colliding discourses about relations between humans, culture, nature and technology.