Walden Revisited, 2001-2003

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Thaddeus Holownia
Walden Revisited, 2001-2003
Twenty-Four Tree Studies for Henry David Thoreau


Walden Revisited by Thaddeus Holownia is a seminal body of work developed through the auspices of a Fulbright Fellowship awarded to the artist in 2001. Over the course of two and a half years, Holownia made many visits to the rural retreat of American author, naturalist and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. It was at Walden Wood, near Concord, Massachusetts, that Thoreau embarked on an exercise to simplify his life, find more time for his writing and return to a greater appreciation of nature. From this experience, Thoreau published Walden, considered one of the best-known works of non-fiction. It was at this pastoral site that Holownia explored his appreciation of Thoreau’s naturalist and transcendental ideals.


Holownia, in homage to Thoreau, created the project Twenty-Four Tree Studies. The works highlight the significance of Thoreau’s ideas by inviting viewers into a dialogue where contemporary environmental and social concerns are parallel with those of Thoreau. The photographs of trees, slightly larger than human scale, become portraits of us with all our scars, tumors, and imperfections. This complex, multifaceted metaphor evolves by asking viewers to consider the many ways we (collectively) are like the forest. Many of the trees “scars” allude to a history of interaction with humans and industry. Others appear unblemished, reflecting the power, beauty and importance of a strong, healthy environment. Even spending a brief amount of time inside Walden Revisited, the message rings clear: by destroying the forest we destroy ourselves.


To quote Holownia, “the power of Thoreau’s words and the confrontational gaze of these trees evoke the spirit of nature’s place, and question the viewer’s own time and place in nature.” 


Thaddeus Holownia explores the intersections of nature and humanity. Specifically, he deals with how humanity changes landscape, how the forces of nature mould human structures, and how the two coexist. His work calls attention to various ecological and political issues that are of growing concern. Holownia's practice uses altered landscapes to convey the precarious relationship between man and nature. To expose these landscapes he returns to a place over years, even decades, and creates a photographic catalogue of the transformation.

As a young artist, Holownia was part of Toronto’s hip and burgeoning art scene. He left Toronto in 1977 for a two-year teaching job at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Professor Holownia became Head of the Photography Department and is now Head of the Fine Arts Department. Enchanted by his surroundings, Holownia remained there and has never returned to living in an urban environment. His move to the Maritimes served to heighten his awareness of deeper moral and spiritual issues that are now the foundations of his ecologically conscious work.