Image: Uriel Orlow, Double Vision (Native Plants) - Sternbergia Clusiana, 2013. Hand-tinted black and white silver gelatin fiber-based print 24 x 29 cm
Starting from the premise that nature holds a central place in the history of colonialism and human conflict, and that colonialism (and with it plantocracy) constitutes an ‘offense against the earth’, this one-day research workshop sets out to explore the politics, and attendant desires and violences, of planting and gardening. Rooted within a post- and de-colonial framework, and with this a questioning of human/nature and culture/nature divides, presentations draw together geopolitics, visual cultures, art history, ecocriticism, botany and theories of resistance in order to explore representational and ideological uses of plants and gardens, both historical and contemporary, as well as potential counter-landscaping, planting and representational practices. In doing so, we seek to reflect critically on urgent issues such as contemporary structures of coloniality, xenophobia, environmental justice and indigenous rights through the lens of the botanical and the visual.
While landscape, as medium, has long been the tool of ideology and power, more specifically the projection and enactment of an imperial and/or nationalistic imagination, we begin by asking how gardens might function as colonial archives. How does the introduction of the native plants of their homelands enable colonizers to re-create the familiar, displace the indigenous and assert their own identities onto the land and into the landscape? How are processes of botanical classification operative as forms of violence? How does the policing of plants mirror concerns over human im/migration? The workshop will thus engage with the complex botanical politics of the present moment, when countries around the world impose strict border regulations regarding the import/export of native and non-native species, while expat ‘constant gardeners’, horticulturalists and ecologists alike ponder over how to quell ‘silent plagues’ carried by non-native insects. Meanwhile, in the context of contemporary extractive capitalism and the ongoing colonisation of natural resources, traditional modes of planting and relating to the land (including peasant practices, indigenous cosmologies and the Andean concept of Pachamama [Mother Nature/Mother Earth]) are violently superseded by the productivity and profit of mechanised farming, bearing witness to ‘the darker side of Western modernity’. And in the context of the global War on Drugs, certain plant forms are deemed ‘terroristic’ subjects and hence ruthlessly criminalised and exterminated, thus raising the question of the ‘rights of nature’ – and with this of indigenous peoples – and the search for justice in the face of ecocide.
If both the land and the garden is itself an archive, how can the complex social, cultural, political and ecological history of its scarring and nurturing be read more effectively? And if pictorial representation has traditionally functioned as the vehicle for imperial landscapes and worldviews, how might contemporary artistic and forensic practices offer tools for resistance, making visible patterns and structural violences that might otherwise go unperceived? Addressing art practices ranging from photography to contemporary appropriations of traditional pigment-making, the workshop will interrogate perceived hierarchies within genres of representation, as such seeking to complicate a facile distinction between the ‘traditional’ or ‘natural’ practice of painting and the more ‘technologically advanced’ tools of digital photography – between physis and tekhn?.
Led by Shela Sheikh and Ros Gray, with presentations by Corinne Silva, Rosario Montero, Sigrid Holmwood and Hannah Meszaros Martin.
Places limited; please email email@example.com to register and request copies of preparatory readings.
Suggested preparatory readings:
WJT Mitchell, ‘Imperial Landscape’, in WJT Mitchell, ed., Landscape and Power (2nd ed.) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002 ), pp. 5–34
Walter Mignolo, ‘Introduction: Coloniality: The Darker Side of Western Modernity’, in The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2011), pp. 1–24
Ursula Beimann and Paolo Tavares, ‘Earthly Memory’ in Forest Law / Selva Jurídica (Michigan: Broad Art Museum, 2015), pp. 45–59
Mario Blaser, ‘Notes Toward a Political Ontology of “Environmental” Conflicts’ in Contested Ecologies: Dialogues in the South on Nature and Knowledge, ed. Lesley Green (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2013), pp. 13–27
Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George B. Handley, ‘Introduction: Toward an Aesthetics of the Earth’ in Postcolonial Ecologies, ed. Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George B. Handley (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 3–39
Dates & times
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