In 2021, Barefoot Path celebrated 10 years of continuous art exhibitions inside a forest area in Österretais. Over the years, this unique exhibition has attracted more and more visitors willing to experience the interconnection between contemporary art and Nature.
Now, in summer 2022, Barefoot Path has been put under “resting mode” after the team that manages it, started noticing increasing signs of human impact in the forest that hosts the exhibition.
We decided to have a conversation with Sandra Nyberg, curator of the exhibition, so she could explain first hand what is happening in Barefoot Path, and what does the future holds for this extraordinary project.
Sandra Nyberg often works with site-specific installations around the world. She is specifically interested in the idea of site-specific and public intervention; creating works that are integrated with their surroundings while exploring local cultural, political, sociological and/or historical contexts.
/ Hello Sandra. The Barefoot Path celebrated its 10 years anniversary in 2021. That sounds like a great milestone for an art exhibition on a forest area in the countryside. Can you speak about these 10 years?
The exhibition started on a grassroot level and has since been allowed to grow quite organically throughout the years. We have had to work within our limited resources – both physically and financially – but we have managed to slowly grow and create something long-lasting and well-known. Our focus has always been on quality over quantity, but even so, the exhibition has hosted over 50 artworks by a selection of local, national, and international artists.
/ I understand that the team behind Barefoot Path started noticing that the influx of visitors to the path was having some kind of impact in the nature that hosts the exhibition. Can you talk more about it? Can you tell what kind of signs are you observing, and what kind of reflections these signs wake up on all of you?
Due to increased popularity and media attention, and with an extra push from the local traveling boom created by Covid19, the exhibition saw a steep rise in visitors during 2020 and 2021. We were of course excited that the exhibition had reached this level of interest after all our hard work and commitment during the last years, but we also started realizing that with this comes new issues and responsibilities to consider.
The main exhibition site in the forest is quite small and with over 50 artworks in the last 10 years, there has been many new paths formed as new sites are used to show the works. With the high number of visitors, these small paths quickly start growing wider, and the areas surrounding artworks also get worn down surprisingly fast. Due to the delicate nature of the site these paths remain for years even after an artwork is removed, creating a criss-cross of paths and trampled spots in the small forest area.
This is of course something that has been happening slowly throughout the course of the exhibition, but the influx of visitors had it escalate visibly in the last year to the extent that we realized that we must take measures to protect the forest.
Also, the number of visitors also has an impact on the small village where the exhibition is located. The question about the infrastructure needed to host this amount of people and cars had been risen and with that, the question of how much the exhibition can grow before damaging itself in the process.
It’s a tricky situation, as we of course value our visitors and are overjoyed about the popularity of the exhibition. But at the same time, we need to start considering our responsibilities and hopefully find sustainable ways to operate on this level.
We hope that this intervention will also inspire others to think about the sustainability of their endeavors.
/ What kind of measurements have you taken to alleviate the human impact on the forest?
As of July 2022 we have, as a joint artistic intervention, closed down the main exhibition are and have put it into “resting mode”. While the area is closed off for visitors, we will examine the state of the forest, remove and/or restore existing artworks and consider if/how we can continue to offer high quality artistic experiences to our visitors in a sustainable way.
We will talk to landowners and local residents to hear their opinions on possible advantages or worries regarding the growing number of visitors to the village.
/ Jessica Koivistoinen’s work is clearly situated outside the path itself. Interacting with her work, we get to observe the forest that hosts Barefoot Path from the outside. The other new work for this 2022, The forest's lament, is an audio reflection on the stress that trees suffer when other trees around them are cut down. Was the selection of the works and their placement intentional for the reflection and process the path is undergoing regarding the human impact in nature?
Yes. In 2022 our focus was that the new works selected would correlate with, and even emphasize, our intervention of putting the main exhibition area into “resting mode”. Therefore, all new works are placed to be experienced from the outside of that area and thematically fit into the thought process we are going through.
In addition to this, a selection of older works are still available to be seen in a smaller area of the exhibition.
/ How are the discussions of the working team regarding this critical moment are happening?
The Barefoot Path team made this unanimous decision in late 2021 while evaluating last years exhibition and planning the future one. Whilst the forest is resting, we have time to make a thorough analysis of the situation at hand.
/ Is the dismantling of the Barefoot Path something you are considering?
It is a possibility, although we are first and foremost focusing on ways to be able to continue in a sustainable way. Most probably this will mean a substantial change of the exhibition from what we are accustomed to.
That said, there are already processes for new works on their way.
Thank you, Sandra, for this interview, and thanks to you and to the whole team for offering such a special art installation on our little island.
If you are interested in visiting Barefoot Path this year, you can check out the list of artists that are exhibited in 2022 on our homepage. From there, you can read a description and get a glimpse of how each work looks on our 2022 exhibition page. And if you want to know how to arrive to barefoot Path, please visit about us.