[Image: The cover for About Trees, edited by Katie Holten].
Artist Katie Holten—who participated in “Landscapes of Quarantine” a few years back—has just published an interesting book called About Trees.
It is essentially an edited compilation of texts about, yes, trees, but also about forests, landscapes of the anthropocene, unkempt wildness, altered ecosystems, and, more broadly speaking, the idea of nature itself.
It ranges from short texts by Robert Macfarlane—recently discussed here—to James Gleick, and from Amy Franceschini to Natalie Jeremijenko. These join a swath of older work by Jorge Luis Borges, with even Radiohead (“Fake Plastic Trees”) thrown in for good measure.
It’s an impressively nuanced selection, one that veers between the encyclopedic and the folkloric, and it has been given a great and memorable graphic twist by the fact that Holten, working with designer Katie Brown, generated a new font using nothing less than the silhouettes of trees.
Every letter of the alphabet corresponds to a specific species of tree.
[Image: The tree typeface from About Trees, edited by Katie Holten].
This has been put to good use, re-setting the existing texts using this new font—with the delightful effect of seeing the work of Jorge Luis Borges transcribed, in effect, into trees.
This has the awesome implication that someone could actually plant this: a typographic forestry of Borges translations.
[Image: Borges, translated into trees, from About Trees].
Speculative short stories realized as ornamental thickets in the backyards of arboreally inclined landowners.
Given all the urban parks, hedge mazes, and scientifically accurate themed gardens of the world—two of my favorites being the exquisite Silver Garden at Longwood Gardens and the scifi otherworldliness of the Desert Garden at the Huntington—surely there is room for a kind of translation landscape?
Stories and fables—koans, slogans, poems, wisecracks—planted as cryptoforests, literary labyrinths you could somehow, impossibly, read provided you know what each species is meant to signify.
Just take Holten’s typeface as a new kind of planting guide, and see what landscapes might result.
[Image: From About Trees].
Holten’s About Trees is available for purchase, of course, if you want to check it out; in the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that someone actually implements a typographic grove somewhere, a planted language of texts flipped into readable tree-signs, sequenced using the font from About Trees.
In fact, recall the myth of Odin discovering the Nordic runes: hanging upside-down from a tree and mistaking, in the especially complicated carpet of roots sprawled out beneath him, the beginnings of a new typeface, an arboreal symbol system that could be written down and shared with others. Runes came from roots—and, as Holten implies, every tree contains a library.
4 thoughts on “Typographic Forestry and Other Landscapes of Translation”
We feel a new project coming on … BTW, thanks for all the fascinating posts and articles: a real stimulus to thought.
i wish the French Roast's russian-reader whose name i never knew is reading this…
Katie Brown co-designed this font? Is that the Next Door With "Katie Brown"?
I love that you chose Borges as your exemplar, but wouldn't Thoreau or Aldo Leopold be a better choice to be translated into a tree font?
or how about this:
"Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness."
― Kahlil Gibran