Berliner Treibholz, 2009
In 2008, Olafur Eliasson harvested about fifty large tree trunks from the northern coast of Iceland. The wood, not native to that country, where less than one percent of the land is covered in forest, belonged to a mass of timber that washes up on Iceland’s shores from Siberia, carried by drifting polar ice and bleached by the sun and saltwater during its long transit.
After shipping the trunks to Berlin, the artist then curated an urban intervention with the driftwood, inserting the massive logs into the cityscape overnight, leaving them in unexpected locations, on main plazas and small side streets alike. The trunks were placed in roundabouts, parking areas, and other in-between spaces as if they had simply drifted into the city and become entangled in its grid. This intervention, titled Berliner Treibholz (Berlin driftwood; 2009), used the timber to generate small frictional dialogues, offering momentary thresholds of subtle resistance to our often pragmatic and automated relations with our surroundings.
The driftwood represents a story of migration and a narrative of natural forces. These nomads hover on the border between natural and artificial, between the normal and the unexpected, just as they float on the border of the sea and the Icelandic shore.