I. Bodies of Work

in a forest

2011-ongoing

Documenting the existence of a particularly charged group of trees given as seedlings (the seedlings are often said to have been presented by Hitler himself, though it seems much more likely the bulk of them at least were were presented by Olympic Committee members) to the 130 gold medalists at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, in a forest forces us to confront the complexity of historical memory.

Installation view, Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Spain, 2014.
Installation view, Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Spain, 2014.
Installation view, Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Spain, 2014.
Installation view, The Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, 2012.
Seeding, Georges Miez’s Olympic Oak, Winterthur, Switzerland. Little information concerning Miez has been uncovered. He won Switzerland’s only Gold Medal in 1936 for the Men’s Floor Exercises in Gymnastics. One article suggests that at another time he was also a personal trainer in Hollywood to Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. The same article notes that at the time of his death in 1999 (aged 107) much was made of Miez’s refusal at the 1936 games to honour the fascist salute, though it goes on to add that footage of the games shows many others did the same. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Jack Lovelock’s Olympic Oak, Timaru Boys’ High School, Timaru, New Zealand. Featured in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, Lovelock set a new world record and won gold in what some regard as one of the finest 1500m Olympic finals of all time. In his thesis James Constandt refers to Lovelock entrusting his seedling into the care of teammate Cecil Matthews to deliver it home to New Zealand. By the time it arrived it was in poor condition but was nursed back to health and in 1941 was planted at Timaru Boys’ High School. 2005-2010. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Louis Hostin’s Olympic Oak, Parc de l’Europe, St. Étienne, France. According to one source this tree was moved around 1945 from Cimetière de Montmartre, where it was discovered mysteriously growing over a German soldier’s grave, eventually making its way to the park in St. Étienne. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Imre Harangi’s Olympic Oak, Nyíradony, Hungary. Google translations of Hungarian sources indicate this tree was a graft taken from Harangi’s ‘original’ oak (a few kilometres away in Hajdúsámson) and planted here in his hometown as part of the ceremony surrounding his triumphant return from the games. The Nyíradony oak subsequently died and was then later replaced, possibly with another graft. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Site of Harold Whitlock’s Olympic Oak, Hendon School, London, Great Britain. Whitlock won his Olympic Oak in the 50km Walk after battling through a bout of possible food poisoning with less than 15km to go. He planted his oak in front of the gymnasium at his old grammar school in Hendon however, due to disease, the oak was felled in 2007 amidst a brief flurry of media attention. Harold’s daughter in-law Jill Whitlock writes in a letter to The Telegraph that she collected acorns from the oak during a visit to the school before it was felled and used them to grow two oak trees in her garden. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Cornelius Johnson’s Olympic Oak, Koreatown, Los Angeles, United States of America. Growing in what was probably the back yard of the athlete’s mother. Difficult to find, this tree was mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article dated 2007. Cornelius Johnson received one of several Gold Medals won by African Americans at the games. He returned to the U.S. where racial segregation was practiced until 1964. Johnson died in 1946. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Franco Riccardi’s Olympic Oak, Chiesa di San Rocco, San Colombano al Lambro, Italy. Initially having little more to go on than a Google translation of an il Cittadino article that suggested it was “close to the 16th Century oratory of San Rocco” (of which there are several throughout Italy) this tree proved difficult to locate. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Toni Merkens’s Olympic Oak, Velodrome, Köln, Germany. Toni Merkens won his Gold Medal for cycling in the Men’s 1000m Match Sprint event. His oak is standing, in what is now a carpark, next to Köln’s velodrome and stadium. As yet little further information is available about this oak and its recipient though internet sources indicate that Merkens was killed in World War Two on the Eastern Front. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Herbert Adamski, Dieter Arend, and Gerhard Gustmann’s Olympic Oak, Berlin, Germany. Awarded for Gold in the Men’s Coxed Pairs, this oak found its home on a small island in Großer Wannsee owned by the rowing club, Ruderklub am Wannsee, which coxswain Arend was a member of. In the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens another club member Katrin Rutschow also received a Gold Medal, this time in Women’s Single Sculls. In honour of this the club planted a second oak on the island next to the original 1936 one, and added commemorative plaques. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Imre Harangi’s Olympic Oak, Hajdúsámson, Hungary. Significantly, the Hajdúsámson oak is located next to the memorials in Szabadság tér (Freedom Square). It seems likely that at the time of planting a graft was taken from this tree and planted in Harangi’s nearby home town of Nyíradony. The Nyíradony oak subsequently died and was then later replaced, possibly with another graft. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Urho Karhumäki’s Olympic Oak, Tervalampi, Finland. In 1936 Olympic Medals were still awarded in what was called The Arts Competitions where artists competed in categories such as sculpture, drawing, painting and architecture. Karhumäki was awarded Gold in the poetry competition for his composition Avoveteen (Into free water). Today only a stump remains at the corner of the small, private graveyard where Karhumäki is buried. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Kaposvár, Hungary. Having won Gold in the 100m Men’s Freestyle, Csik’s oak was ceremoniously planted next to the swimming pool in his hometown. According to some Kaposvár locals, the oak was recently cut down to accommodate an enlargement of the swimming pool complex. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Fritz Bauer, Ernst Gaber, Hans Maier, Paul Söllner and Walter Volle’s Olympic Oak, Mannheim, Germany. Awarded for the Men’s Coxed Fours, this oak was planted at the rowing club where the team had trained in Mannheim. It is reported to have suffered damage during bombing raids in World War Two but later recovered. The rowing club now holds their annual Gartenfest beneath its branches. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Unknown Athletes’ Olympic Oak #1, Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam, Netherlands. By the canal behind the stadium, this is one of a pair of oaks, growing side by side that were most likely awarded to the swimming relay team of Rie Mastenbroek, Willy den Ouden, Tini Wagner, and Jopie Selbach and to Nida Senff, also a swimmer. Both of these oaks are currently unmarked though historic photos show small intricate round wrought iron fences protecting them. Rie Mastenbroek also received two other oaks in the 100 and 400 metres Freestyle and these were given to the Rotterdam Zoo. According to James Constandt, both of these died “during the awful bombardment” by the German Luftwaffe. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Willi Kaiser’s Olympic Oak, Gladbeck Stadium, Gladbeck, Germany. In his thesis on the Olympic Oaks, James Constandt states that the planting of this tree was delayed by 12 years, due in part to Willi being in a Russian prison. Later, apparently in the face of neglect and disinterest from the Gladbeck City Council, Willi spent the last 14 years of his life caring for his monument himself. He died in 1986. By 1992 the bronze plaque under the tree had completely corroded away and Willi’s son began negotiations with the Mayor to arrange a replacement. When this image was made there was a new marble plaque under the tree. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Undine (also Ondina and Trabzon) Valla’s Olympic Oak, Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Bologna, Italy. Valla was the first Italian woman to win a Gold Medal. Her oak had been growing healthily until the stadium was enlarged in 1990 at which time it was either cut down or died as a result of being unable to adapt to its new situation. In 1997 a replacement oak was planted in a ceremony with Valla in attendance. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Tibor Berczelly, Aladár Gerevich, Endre Kabos, Pál Kovács, László Rajcsányi, and Imre Rajczy’s Olympic Oak, Berettyóújfalu, Hungary. In a park beside the main road, in the middle of Berettyóújfalu, are two nearly identical oaks. Though only the other has a plaque, indicating it was awarded to Endre Kabos for the Individual Sabre event, a local hotel owner indicated that this one was for the Sabre Team’s Gold Medal. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Site of Harold Whitlock’s Olympic Oak, Hendon School, London, Great Britain. Whitlock won his Olympic Oak in the 50km Walk after battling through a bout of possible food poisoning with less than 15km to go. He planted his oak in front of the gymnasium at his old grammar school in Hendon however, due to disease, the oak was felled in 2007 amidst a brief flurry of media attention. Harold’s daughter in-law Jill Whitlock writes in a letter to The Telegraph that she collected acorns from the oak during a visit to the school before it was felled and used them to grow two oak trees in her garden. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Tibor Berczelly, Aladár Gerevich, Endre Kabos, Pál Kovács, László Rajcsányi, and Imre Rajczy’s Olympic Oak, Berettyóújfalu, Hungary. In a park beside the main road, in the middle of Berettyóújfalu, are two nearly identical oaks. Though only the other has a plaque, indicating it was awarded to Endre Kabos for the Individual Sabre event, a local hotel owner indicated that this one was for the Sabre Team’s Gold Medal. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Márton Lőrincz’s Olympic Oak, Szentes, Hungary. Sources indicate that Lőrincz was unable to plant his oak in his hometown in Transylvania as it had become part of Romania and so offered it to his newly adopted home of Szentes instead. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.