THIS IS NOT WHAT MY COTYLEDON HAD IN MIND / by Johanna Santos Bassetti

format 16 mm Film         location Curonian National Reserve, Lithuania, Europe

The Curonian Spit, a rare geological formation: length 100km, width 2-4 km, bound to the West by the Baltic Sea, to the East by the Curonian Lagoon, and composed entirely of sand. The Spit was formed about five thousand years atop a foundation of glacial moraine (unconsolidated glacial debris). As winds and water streams drifted sand along the coast of present-day Poland and Kaliningrad, the ridge formation was kept above water. 

Pushing westward, the sand met resistance from the sweet water flowing eastward through the Neman River. When the sand formation stabilized sufficiently, short grasses were able to take root, which, providing further stability, allowed small bushes and shrubs to grow. The shrubs gave leeway to trees and eventually a balanced forest was formed. The first inhabitants of the Spit date to the 8th Century but the population greatly increased with the invasion of the Teutonic knights in the 13th Century.

Significant human impacts on the area began in the 16th century. Deforestation of the spit due to overgrazing, timber harvesting, and building of boats for the siege of Königsberg in 1757 led to the dunes taking over the spit and burying entire villages. Lacking the fixative power of live rooted plants, the sand drifted uncontrollably and covered 9 of the Spit's 13 villages. The population fled their sand-inundated houses to the 4 remaining settlements. Alarmed by these problems, the Prussian government sponsored large-scale revegetation and reforestation efforts, which started in 1825. Owing to these efforts, much of the spit is now covered with forests. The revegetation was organized by waves of Prussian landscape engineers. Each one modified the tactic slightly--different ind of pine tree, different spatial configuration--but mostly used a grid to determine the forest's structure. Whether by error or intention, some parts of this forest are impenetrable.

In certain areas, the trees are planted so close together as to preclude any possibility of moving between them. The pines themselves are warped, bending laterally in search of light. And so, the result of reforestation tactics centuries ago impinges upon our present-day experience of the forest as a space for bodies to enter. Man-made natural space alienating us from the environment by removing our opportunity to participate in the particulars within the perimeters.