The Alder King

2022-09-13 - 2022-10-25


The core of Nicolas Grospierre’s The Alder King project is a series of 19 photographs documenting the cutting down a magnificent alder and its way through the sawmill to the framer’s. Each photograph is framed in wood the cutting we see. The work is complemented by the handwritten artist’s statement, in which he declares the purchase of the tree to be cut down for the purpose of creating a work of art, and a video showing how the artist tenderly touches the trunk with his hands just before the woodcutter starts the chainsaw.

Grospierre’s The Alder King differs from the image established in literature. Coming from the Danish folk culture, Eller-Konge was the king of elves who lured children in the forest to kill them. The myth of the evil ruler inspired German romantics – first Johann Gottfried Herder, and then Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who with his ballad Erlkönig, to which Franz Schubert wrote music, contributed to the popularization of the legend. The Alder King who is a majestic tree with a spreading crown seems to be a better candidate to be honored with the title than the elf deceiver.

In Joatham’s parable from the Book of Judges, trees chose a king from among themselves, whose task would be to cast a shadow and provide a place of rest. Alders grow near the water, so whoever found protection from the sun under it could also quench his thirst. The king of alders stands alone in the middle of the field like an ancient sacred tree – the Greeks, when logging the forest, always left one tree dedicated to Artemis. The king of alders resisted the gusty winds and storms. Not a thunder but a saw in human hands made the tree to fell.


The artist felt that he had to say goodbye and thank the alder. Where does this need to soothe conscience come from? On the one hand, large-scale logging is the normal use of the forest, but the felling of this particular tree seems to be a sacrilege, a gesture by Erysichthon of Thessaly, and even the crime of regicide. A display of the purchase document to cut down the tree for the sake of art only makes the Nicolas Grospierre’s parting with the king of alders to bring similar emotions to ones evoked by Katarzyna Kozyra’s farewell to the animal before putting it down. This comparison seems bold, but in reality is a testimony to the widening of the limits of sensitivity in art.

The artist, who named the tree the King of Alders, emphasized its dignity, but by his act he equated himself with the Michel Tournier’s The Erl-King and the ogrelike figure of Abel Tiffauges. An ogre devours something he loves, because a strange perverse love makes him connect his loved one with his body. Likewise Nicolas Grospierre cuts down a tree out of delight over it to immortalize it in a work of art in which it is represented in two ways – through the reproduction of the image and wood used in frame.

Nicolas Grospierre, confronting the romantic mystery of The Alder King, created a completely new redaction of the topic, which is primarily an unmasking activity in relation to the radical approach to the postulates of sustainable development. The artist exposes the inevitability of using resources and exploiting the natural world in the context of everyday functioning. After all, the trees had to be felled to make frames for the pictures, and also to get the paper on which the words were printed.