"Enter the Woods | 2 MINUTES"
Section MS10, Matthew Darmour-Paul
Keywords: sense, health, vision, technology
Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, is a form of Japanese medicine aiming to offer an antidote to what Craig Brod terms the ‘techno stresses’ of post-industrial modernity. Forest bathing involves spending time in a forest or natural environment being 'present,' deeply studying the leaves, the sounds, the smells - slowing down to the rhythm of the more-than-human world. Forest bathing is derived from the Shinto and Buddhist practices of ‘letting nature enter your body through all five senses’, connecting one’s mind to body to nature.
It could be argued that forest bathing is the antithesis of the digital.
We are in an age where we know that these digital spaces are intrinsically connected to our physical, bodily spaces. We know that extended periods of life mediated through a screen are detrimental, yet so much of our attention is directed and new knowledge gleaned that we undergo a paradox: in order to cure the ills of the screen, we so often turn to the screen in hope.
This is where we can find the incredibly interesting part of YouTube dedicated to the practice of 'virtual forest bathing.’ Such videos are genuine in sentiment but ironic owing to the simple factor of being mediated through the screen. They go against nearly every rule of forest bathing: switch off, breathe, feel your body, feel the world around you.
Virtual ‘forest bathing’ could be seen as a metaphor for our age. Many yearn for bluebells in the forest but do they really yearn for them or do they yearn for the idea of them? Do they actually yearn for ‘Bluebells in the forest (360 video)’? An idealised version of a natural world perpetually in spring or summer, a world that speaks to our increasingly declining attention spans and can help fix us in just one minute and seven seconds.
The practice speaks so much more loudly of the digital experience as a whole. It illustrates an imperial logic of control through interior and exterior spaces - what can be conveyed can be controlled and what can be controlled can be understood. But can it? Through the screen we can experience the world, acquiring potentially boundless knowledge and yet at the same time we experience nothing at all. It is, as the artist Hito Steyerl puts it, a kind of ‘bubble vision’: the 360o panoramic puts the individual at the centre while simultaneously removing the individual from view, removing the senses and offering no tactile experience. By virtually ‘forest bathing’ is one calming oneself or ‘are they already rehearsing how to be their own ghost?’.
‘Enter the Woods | 2 MINUTES’ critiques the ironic and antithetical escapism of the virtual forest bathing experience. Through digital compilation the film creates a misreading of the forest, distilling the mindful act of forest bathing from a physical two hours into a digital, misguided two minutes, challenging aspects of our existence online.