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Archive: Gardens


Reveries of Collective Walkers (Oxford)

Reveries of Collective Walkers is an ambulatory collective reading performance convened in different places. While walking amongst plants participants are reading selected texts in different languages which feature human-botanical entanglements and plants as protagonists. The addressees are the plants themselves, they love the CO2 emitted in the act of reading: the audience is invited to walk between the readers and tune in and out of different texts or spontaneously join in.


Reveries of Collective Walkers (Geneva)

Reveries of Collective Walkers is an ambulatory collective reading performance convened in different places. While walking amongst plants participants are reading selected texts in different languages which feature human-botanical entanglements and plants as protagonists. The addressees are the plants themselves, they love the CO2 emitted in the act of reading: the audience is invited to walk between the readers and tune in and out of different texts or spontaneously join in.


Proposal for a Garden (Geneva)

Proposal for a Garden challenges people’s perspectives on the diversity of plants found in the city, and in particular questions the notion of ‘weeds’. To highlight these often unloved plants, he has created the conceptual garden Proposal for a garden (Geneva), designed with the help of architect Andreas Lechthaler.

By exploring our relationship with what we do or don’t accept in our urban environment, the artist evokes the evolution of our relationship with nature, where little by little the qualities of plants (medicinal or nutritional) have been forgotten, ultimately reducing them to the status of ‘invasive plants’. Proposal for a Garden aims to remind us of the usefulness of these plants and to restore their value, treating them with the same care as ‘traditional’ cultivated plants.


Botany of Death, Botany of Life

The 1953 short film Les statues meurent aussi (Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Ghislain Cloquet), commissioned by the magazine Présence africaine and banned in France for eleven years because of its anti-colonialist views, begins with the following sentence: “When men are dead, they enter history. When statues are dead, they enter art. This botany of death is what we call culture.”

The collections of the Musée Theodore Monod in Dakar, like those of other museums that emerged out of the European colonial project, are full of objects that have once been part of living cultures and everyday practices but are now disconnected from the place and people they came from, enclosed within walls. Eloquent objects that harbour memories of gestures and stories of ‘savoir faire’ are now inert and mute. How can we revive these objects? How can we give them back a voice, reconnect them to life, tradition and the present? How can we overcome the symbolic and epistemic violence of their decontexutalisition, their museification? How can we set them free?

Uriel Orlow’s project Botany of Death, Botany of Life engages with artefacts from the collection of the Musée Theodore Monod which are intimately connected with plants: woven baskets used to collect plants, mortar and pestle used to process leaves and roots for medicinal use or sachets of plants worn by warriors to bring them luck… Objects that testify to our entanglement with the vegetal world and that evoke the spiritual and medicinal powers of plants.

In the video Botany of Death, Botany of Life we follow the working practices of the traditional Hopital Keur Massar, outside of Dakar. Founded by Professor Yvette Parès – trained in biology, plant physiology, soil microbiology and medecine she became a disciple of the Fula healer Dadi Diallo. Today the Traditional Hospital Keur Massar is day hospital for traditional medicine, a pharmacy, a laboratory, a botanical garden, a school and a training centre. Plants are being cultivated, collected, processed and used – generating gestures of human-plant collaborations, and a dialogue between tradition and the present.

Outside the museum walls, in the garden, we encounter Botany of Care, a medicinal garden project conceived and developed jointly by Uriel Orlow and Ariane Leblanc. Initiated in 2020 and carried out in collaboration with the Hôpital Traditionel de Keur Massar and pupils from local schools, various medicinal plants were planted in the midst of the largely ornamental museum garden, proposing to interrogate scientific classifications and methods of transmission. Allowing for a parallel reading of the garden and disturbing the distinction between the aesthetic and the useful as well as the imposed forms of classification of the natural world, Botany of Care focuses on plants as agents with their own culinary, spiritual and healing powers, inscribed in a cosmological continuity between us and nature. Through the words of local actors, knowledge of these plants will be spread in the vicinity of the museum. Through workshops and other forms of community engagement with the use of plants, the garden seeks to revive intangible but essential modes of oral transmission that are often overshadowed by scientific discourse and nomenclature.


Tori Bari (After Yellow)

Commissioned by the Kathmandu Triennale 2077, After Yellow is a garden of Oriental Mustard (Tori “टोरी” / Too “टूउ”), flowering during the Triennale and sown as to evoke the shape of a traditional wooden mustard mill from nearby Khokana, famed for its centuries old tradition of mustard cultivation and milling of prized mustard oil supplied to Kathmandu and beyond.

Originating in the foothills of the Himalaya, Oriental Mustard cultivation has spread to many parts of the globe including Europe and North America. Its culinary and medicinal use is documented in Sanskrit texts from as early as 5000 years ago and for a long time mustard oil was the only cooking oil used locally. Today both the physical and intangible heritage of indigenous mustard oil expelling technology and the pioneering cooperative mill system that evolved over 600 years ago are threatened by new technologies and global market competition which makes local production unviable. Indeed, the cultivation of mustard itself is slowly disappearing as Kokhana, in the Lalitpur district, is being engulfed by the rapid urbanization of the Kathmandu Valley. The work also draws attention to local resistance against a planned highway project that would destroy many of the mustard fields. After the exhibition the seeds will be collected and taken to Khokana to be milled into oil at the last traditionally operating mechanical mill.

Referencing land art and the colour fields from the history of monochrome painting – in particular Rodchenko’s Pure Yellow Colour from 1921 – this work is an homage to Indigenous technology and a reminder of cooperative economic models on the brink of being forgotten.


Learning from Artemisia

Artemisia afra, an indigenous medicinal plant, effectively treats and prevents malaria and can simply be taken as an infusion. Despite studies that show its effectiveness and the simplicity of its administration and sustainability of its local production, it is not recommended as a treatment by the World Health Organisation which appears to favour the pharmaceutical industry and its global reach.
Originally commissioned by the Lubumbashi Biennale, Uriel Orlow worked for several months with a women’s cooperative in Lumata, south of Lubumbashi, DRC. The cooperative is growing Artemisia afra with the proceeds funding a collective health insurance for themselves and their families. However, because of the lack of support on an international and local level few people are aware of this home-grown treatment.
For the Biennale, Orlow and the women from the cooperative planted a small Artemisia afra garden in Lubumbashi which was complemented by mural painted by Musasa and a live concert by the Lumata based music group Jeunes Etoiles des Astres who sing about the virtues of Artemisia.
Learning from Artemisia is an installation that consists of a three-channel video composed by a letter from the artist, a slide show of the process of production and processing by the cooperative, and a video of the song. The installation also consists of a series of small paintings commissioned by Musasa, visual research and Artemisia afra tea.
In 2019, Malaria continues to kill a child every few minutes and the parasite that causes it is becoming ever more drug resistant. In the 70s, research to develop new anti-malarial drugs led to the discovery and extraction of Artemisin from the Chinese variety of Artemisia used for two thousand years and now patented in medications. However, resistance is now also building up against the extracted artemisin. At the same time it has become evident that the non-extractive use of the whole plant is still highly effective, yet the plant is prohibited in many parts of Europe and scientific research is suppressed. Artemisia afra grows in different parts of Africa including the Congo and contains no artemisin (but a potent cocktail of minerals, including abundant copper) yet is still highly effective as an infusion; not only does it resist drug resistance but it also resists extractive medicine. In the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo whose colonial and postcolonial economy has been dominated by various forms of extraction (mainly of minerals) Artemisia afra can help us to imagine much needed non-extractive relationships to natural resources as well as local and sustainable healthcare solutions and forms of solidarity.