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Archive: Soil Affinities

 

Conversing with Leaves

Publication released the occasion of the exhibition Conversing with Leaves by Uriel Orlow at Kunsthalle Mainz, November 30, 2019 – March 15, 2020.

The title derives from the book of the same name written by Luther Burbank, a nineteenth-century American botanist renowned for watching plants and conducted numerous botanical experiments. Significantly, he used his knowledge to teach plants, as it were, as he considered them to be learning organisms that could be optimized and enhanced for human use. Although more than a century separates Burbank and artist Uriel Orlow, there are considerable overlaps between them, regarding the relationship between plants and humans, and the communication between them. However, there is one fundamental difference as regards their visions: Burbank specifically wanted to shape, cultivate, and enhance plants; while also interested in human influence on plants, Orlow does not himself exercise it, instead providing space for the plants themselves to tell the story. In media such as film, photography, and installations he uses archive and documentary material, the city, architecture and real people, to tempt the stories out of trees, flowers, herbs, and seeds — stories that are deeply bound up with humans, our past, our place in the world today — in short: our lives.

It is clear that plants have long served people and have constantly been made into witnesses of history, memorials to certain events, and therapeutic agents. Plants have for centuries been put to many purposes foreign to them, and have been exploited by all of us. That said, the ways in which they are used differ greatly, as do the interests involved.

Stefanie Böttcher

Contributions by Uriel Orlow, Stefanie Böttcher, Lina Louisa Krämer, Shela Sheikh and Hans Rudolf Reust.

Monograph published in 2020 by Archive Books, Berlin.

More info can be found at Archive Books here.

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Soil Affinities

Uriel Orlow: Soil Affinities

Affinités Des Sols | Soil Affinities explores the connections of (post) colonial history and the movement of plants for agriculture, from Aubervilliers, a northern suburb of Paris, to formerly French West Africa (Mali and Senegal). This publication and Uriel Orlow’s artistic project of the same name retrace the lines and networks of earthly connections between plants and humans through images, maps, texts, and interviews conducted in France, Senegal, and Mali over the span of two years.

Co-published by Aubervilliers Laboratories / Shelter Press with the generous support of CNAP, National Center of Plastic Arts.

136 pp.
thread-sewn softcover with dustjacket
3 color offset with black / white images
Size: 24 x 32 cm
Language (s): English + French
Rennes / Paris, January 2019
ISBN: 978-2-36582-030-1

More information can be found at Shelter Press here.

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Soil Affinities

Soil Affinities takes its starting point in Aubervilliers’ 19th century market gardening past which ended when factories started to take over, around the same time as European countries, including France, began to develop a colonial agriculture in Africa. Soil Affinities is guided
by a series of interconnected questions : What remains todayof Aubervilliers’ market gardening past apart from the town’s street names? How can plants become a compass to map historical and contemporary (post-)colonial relations?
relations?

In 1899, following the infamous Berlin conference which divided Africa between the European powers, and around the same time as suburban agriculture had to make space for new industries and their factories in Aubervilliers, the French colonial department created the colonial test garden at the Eastern end of the Bois de Vincennes in Paris. In specially designed transport boxes — the so called Ward crates — plants
would be shipped from the Americas to Paris and from there to the newly set up test gardens in Dakar, Saint Louis and elsewhere in West Africa.

Over time those same gardens also started experimenting with and cultivating European staples — such as tomatoes, peppers, green beans, onions, cabbage etc. —for the growing French se”ler population. #e large scale cultivation of staple vegetables in West Africa — as opposed to the previous economic plants such as cocoa, coffee, peanut etc. — took off a%er independance from France in 1960 with a number of French and European companies creating industrial farms in Senegal producing almost exclusively for Rungis, one of the biggest wholesale markets in Europe, just outside Paris.

Soil Affinities traces these lines and networks of terrestrial connections between plants and people, across different geographies and temporalities, through video, photography, and other documents gathered in France and Senegal over the past year. #e installation is conceived as a display of these materials, in a horizontal, non-linear manner that allows them to speak for themselves as well as cross-fertilise each other.

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