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Archive: Soil Affinities


Critical Zones The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth | Bruno Latour, Peter Weibel (eds.)

This monumental volume, drawn from a 2020 exhibition at the ZKM Center for Art and Media, portrays the disorientation of life in a world facing climate change. It traces this disorientation to the disconnection between two different definitions of the land on which modern humans live: the sovereign nation from which they derive their rights, and another one, hidden, from which they gain their wealth—the land they live on, and the land they live from. Charting the land they will inhabit, they find not a globe, not the iconic “blue marble,” but a series of critical zones—patchy, heterogenous, discontinuous.

With short texts, longer essays, and more than 500 illustrations, the contributors explore the new landscape on which it may be possible for humans to land—what it means to be “on Earth,” whether the critical zone, the Gaia, or the terrestrial. They consider geopolitical conflicts and tools redesigned for the new “geopolitics of life forms.” The “thought exhibition” described in this book opens a fictional space to explore the new climate regime; the rest of the story is unknown.

Contributors: Bruno Latour, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Sonia Levy, Jan Zalasiewicz, Clémence Hallé, Anne-Sophie Milon, Robert Boschman, Karen Holmberg, John Tresch, Richard Powers, Pierre Charbonnier, Paul Jobin, Timothy Mitchell, Steve Banwart, Robert Boschman, Gerard de Vries, Matthieu Duperrex, Stefanie Rau, Joseph Leo Koerner, Jérôme Gaillardet, Alexandra Arènes, Marie-Claire Pierret, Susan L. Brantley, Daniel D. Richter, Sharon A. Billings, William E. Dietrich, Aleksandar Rankovic, Simon Schaffer, Jeanne Etelain, Timothy M. Lenton, Sébastien Dutreuil, Bettina Korintenberg, Pauline Goul, Alexander W. Schindler, Anne Schreiber, Anuradha Mathur, Dilip da Cunha, Ali Gharib, Siegfried Zielinski, Laura Dassow Walls, Isabelle Stengers, Verónica Calvo Valenzuela, Sarah Vanuxem, Dorothea Condé, Pierre-Yves Condé, Estelle Zhong Mengual, Vinciane Despret, Johanna Ziebritzki, Hanna Jurisch, Emilie Hache, Mira Hirtz, Nikolaj Schultz, Daniel Irrgang, Yohji Suzuki, Emanuele Coccia, Benedikte Zitouni, Joseph Leo Koerner, Rachel Libeskind, Robert Preusse, Stefanie Rau, Jennifer Gabrys, Bronislaw Szerszynski, Lena Reitschuster, Olga Lukyanova, Michael Flower, Jonathan Gray, Anna Krzywoszynska, Daria Mille, Pierre Wat, Martin Guinard, Frédérique Aït-Touati, Donna Haraway.


Pdf of the introduction


Art and Climate Change | Maja Fowkes, Reuben Fowkes

Art and Climate Change collects a wide range of artistic responses to our current ecological emergency. When the future of life on Earth is threatened, creative production for its own sake is not enough. Through contemporary artworks, artists are calling for an active, collective engagement with the planet in order to illuminate some of the structures that threaten biological survival.

Exploring the meeting point of decolonial reparation and ecological restoration, artists are remaking history by drawing on the latest ecological theories, scientific achievements, and indigenous worldviews to engage with the climate crisis. Across five chapters, authors Maja and Reuben Fowkes examine these artworks that respond to the Anthropocene and its detrimental impact on the planet’s climate, from scenes of nature decimated by ongoing extinction events and landscapes turned to waste by extraction, to art coming out of the communities most affected by the environmental injustice of climate change.

Featuring a broad range of media, including painting, photography, conceptual, installation, and performance, this text also dives into eco-conscious art practices that have created a new kind of artistic community by stressing a common mission for creators all over the world. In this art history, the authors emphasize the importance of caring for and listening to marginalized and indigenous communities while addressing climate uncertainty, deforestation, toxicity, and species extinction. By proposing scenarios for sustainable futures, today’s artists are reshaping our planet’s history, as documented in this heavily illustrated book.

Maja Fowkes is a curator and art historian with a focus on the theory and aesthetics of Eastern European art from the socialist era to the present. Fowkes is a co-director of the Translocal Institute for Contemporary Art in London.

Reuben Fowkes is a curator and art historian with a focus on the theory and aesthetics of Eastern European art from the socialist era to the present. Fowkes is a co-director of the Translocal Institute for Contemporary Art in London.



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.


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.


Soil Affinities

Soil Affinities takes its starting point in Aubervilliers’ 19th-century market gardening, which ended when factories started to take over, around the same time European countries, including France, began to develop a colonial agriculture in Africa. Soil Affinities is guided by a series of interconnected questions: what remains today of 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?

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 settler population. The large-scale cultivation of staple vegetables in West Africa — as opposed to the previous economic plants such as cocoa, coffee, peanut, etc. — took off after independence 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. The installation is conceived as a display of these materials, in a horizontal, non-linear manner that allows them to speak for themselves and cross-fertilise each other.