Freida Knobloch’s “The Bad Seed” in Cabinet

Passages from this great article:

http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/10/weeds.php

“Societies without a large complement of domesticated animals appear to have a different relationship with all plants, including weeds. These societies, including many in North America, traditionally practiced smaller-scale agriculture, and hunting or fishing rather than animal husbandry supplemented the plant abundance of cultivated gardens and gathered roots, seeds, and greens. Not likely to allow corn fields to be overgrown with weeds, Native American farmers nevertheless show a certain tolerance for what white neighbors would consider weeds, including a particular species of sunflower (Helianthus exilis) in the Southwest that is welcomed in their fields as sacred. Most descendents of Old World domesticated crop and animal agricultural traditions simply do not cultivate the sacred in this way. “

“As part of the legacy of Old World domestication, weeds come with a Biblical judgment, part of the original judgment of Adam, appropriate for the culture responsible for both the story of Eden and long participation in the cultivation of grains, pigs, goats, cattle, and fowl. Their culture and cultivation would by necessity have familiarized the ancient Hebrews (along with all their neighbors) with weeds as the expected and unwanted companions of their hardest work in the fields. To some extent, this ancient judgment—that weeds are not merely unwanted but bad—survives uninterrupted to this day. People have surprisingly strong words for weeds, and even the Biblical story remained appropriate in a weed identification textbook as recently as 1914. “

“It’s not the plants themselves that are weedy. The ways we cultivate and think about landscapes and cultivation—as divine punishment and reward, for example—guarantee that some of our plant cohabitors will always be seen as weeds. There are no biological qualities that define a weed, only cultural ones. Any plant that reproduces in great quantity, and that can withstand a wide range of climates and forms of cultivation and herbicide application, could possibly be a valuable crop. Value in a tradition is the key to weediness and non-weediness: Can something we know eat it? Are we likely to harvest it in some quantity for some familiar purpose? Is there a market for it? One enterprising weed inspector in Minnesota made a little extra cash selling (organic) dandelion greens and burdock root to the local food co-ops. But generally weeds don’t sell. They are exactly what can’t be bought and sold, what’s taking up space and refuses to leave, or die. “

“It’s easy to see how people could sometimes end up rooting for the weeds. What they value lies in some opposition to the status quo, an ordering of nature and society or even the sacred landscape that leaves too much out. Sculptor Tony Matelli in part celebrated this side of weeds recently in his installations of weedy plant groups in gallery floors in a show titled “Abandon,” which also acknowledged weeds as a sign of some failure. The two go together. Abandonment will always carry with it both the promise of new forms of attention and care, and the recognition of a failure of some kind, something “let go,” a judgment. “

“Weeds—as weeds—are not beautiful, just a return to disorder whose potential is both vast and untested. Weeds are the fulcrum of a change, from one order to another, whether you can complete the change successfully or not. “

“Sometimes, just the promise of change is enough. Weeds can remind people of the tantalizing possibilities of abandonment, what might come after, what life might be like.”

“To merely find weeds visually interesting, even “beautiful,” or to rub them on our minor wounds or learn how to eat them again (like fancy chefs do from time to time) is to miss a point, like saying a fire-breathing dragon can make a good welding torch. Whatever use a plant may have, a weed has an epic quality, taking on something of the significance of Biblical tares polluting the wheat, the thistles Adam and Eve hacked through on their way out of Eden. Any plant might be domesticated, but not a weed—not weediness itself. That’s permanent, a kind of backhanded gift of Old World agriculture. That’s where Daniel’s stubborn politics come from, the disorderly lens through which Carney pulled prairie out of farmland, the place Pyle looks to for the connections between broken promises and broken landscapes, where Bragg coyly salutes a rowdy southern identity, or where I looked at the end of one life for the beginning of another. As long as we have weeds, there will be characters to assault our best efforts and provide the seeds for new efforts always.­”

Next Epoch Seed Library

Ellie Irons and I are collaborating on a new project: Next Epoch Seed Library.

Ellie posted our project description and call for participation on Medium. Check it out! We’ll be launching in March and hope to have a varied collection by then with many different species, locations, and contributors represented.

She also had some very pragmatic words on why native species are interesting but not all that great or important or helpful.

——-

Now some of you may be thinking: this seems like an enjoyable, innocuous activity…sort of…but should we really be gathering and promoting the seeds of weeds? Aren’t they ecologically damaging? Aren’t they a nuisance? Good question! I ….Yes, weedy species are aggressive, often not “native”, and can be prone to altering the composition of delicately balanced, historically relevant ecosystems

BUT: maybe what we need more than historically relevant ecosystems (those that mirror a past ideal of a bio-diverse, well-functioning environment), are living, breathing plants that are up to the task of dealing with the shit-storm we’ve created. Thriving plant communities come with loads of ecological and social benefits. Is it really worth raging against the geographical pedigree of a plant introduced 200 years ago if it’s functioning to stabilize soil, feed late season pollinators, generate oxygen, cool the ground, and improve human mental health? Sure, there are villainous weeds out there (think Kudzu), but it’s all context-based, and plant communities that suffer from being overrun by a weedy villain are often not in the best shape to begin with. Or so I hear from some of the ecologists I’ve grilled on this topic.

In the end, humans have made inaccurate assumptions so many times about so many things, that I’ve decided I’d like to (in general) fall on the side of life. If something has a will to live, I’d like to give it a chance. And these weeds certainly have that in spades. If you’re unconvinced, or want more evidence, I’ve enjoyed and been edified by the sources below over the past few months. As noted by Stuart K. Allison, landscapes decimated by human activity can be restored to their “original historical trajectory” without being returned to “their exact historical past”. This is my point exactly: ecosystems can still be functional with new mixtures of plant communities. Let’s not waste human energy, time, and herbicide fixing something that’s already working. We have bigger fish to fry.

Photo taken by Ellie in a former parking lot in Providence, RI.

NOTES: Producing Waste/Producing Space Conference at Princeton University

Mariana Mogilveich

Katamari Damacy – Video Game

“Urban Metabolism”

Urban Waste as Raw Material

Curt Gambetta

Waste facilities disengage from City & fortify themselves

“Waste remains an unruly substance.”

“Culturally, socially, materially leaky”

Perfume Barrier – McCarty Landfill, Houston

Max Liboiron

Clarify & Define definitions of Waste

You Cannot Do Discard Studies Intuitively

Fraction of 3% Municipal Waste is Household Waste

Industrial Waste – 97%, mostly mining

Waste as Metaphor

Waste as profit generator – Invented 1956 by Lloyd Stouffer

Picture 3

Robin Nagle

Dead Horse Bay – Remnants of People who were displaced from Sunset Park by Robert Moses

Latour – Objects have Agency

Archaeology of the Contemporary Past

Samantha McBride – Recycling Reconsidered

Museum of Waste

Capital / Ecology / Sovereignty

Trans-natural, Porosity, Seepage

Museum – Spectacle

– Experiment with Production of Knowledge

Analytic Satire

Discussion

ML – Call for Definitional Precision

What is the educational system for?

Who Governs the Ocean?

“We are lettered parasites…who have… disciplined hinterlands” – Vera Candiani

ML – Impossible Problems –> Changing Business as Usual

You need: Collaboration –> Compendium (vocabulary)

Methodology should no be based on metaphor

Theory of Scale and Power

Overthrow Capitalism

RN – “It cannot stay inside the academy otherwise we are only talking to ourselves”

How do you do a research question with other people?

Don’t use metaphor as a case study. What can this metaphor do/not do? How are we wielding it? Where does the metaphor stop?

WASTELANDS

Vittoria DiPalma

Early Biblical Texts: Weston – Wilderness (primitive) – Wastland (despoiled proof of devine censure, place of salvation by transforming to a garden)

SWAMP – visceral disgust, science/technology, increase usefulness & mitigate contamination

MOUNTAIN – fear, repulsion, fascination, attraction – sublime

FOREST – moral disgust, gardening, redemption

FENS = Wetlands

We have the same reactions as our ancestors to wastelands.

Use visceral disgust –> Action

Moral –> Hold polluters accountable

Redemption –> Art *** Can sanction contempolation rather than engagement

Love grows from intimate knowledge.

Wastland does not inspire love.

Lindsey Dillon

Industrial Wastelands

Cleanup is impossible but only way forward offered.

“Slow violence”

Damon Rich

Sol Lewinsky – Where do “publics” come from?

Popular Education – Using people’s esixting knowledge

Jane Jacobs

Emotion <-> Aesthetics

OBSOLESCENCE

Infrastructure – Conceptualized as layers, each resting on each other

Possibility of Radical Ethics around contraction (of economy) in relationship to artist’s work

Great Depression – Pausing of suburban expansion, looking inward

Problem underlying urbanism

Sanitary City –> Toxic City (w/ local inflections)

Seed Library Proposal with Ellie Irons

Composite

We are drawn to the range of resilient life forms found in neglected urban and suburban landscapes. the contrast between carefully planned and maintained landscapes and spontaneous spaces provides a filter through which to contemplate questions of wilderness versus civilization, biodiversity versus “nativeness”, and the idealized versus the “natural” .

Our proposed project looks closely at plants that tend to live in close association with dense human populations. Growing where others can’t or won’t, the plants held in our seed bank are those best adapted to live in the long shadow we throw on the landscape. Recasting these “weedy” species as companion plants for Anthropocene age, the project draws parallels between the characteristics of successful spontaneous plants and patterns of human population growth and flux in globalized cities. We are encouraging viewers to look at the overlooked and to be aware of how our value systems interact with both humans and non-humans.

We would like to create an interactive library of seeds gathered from wild-growing plants in the Bronx. Anyone can take seeds to plant or add to the library.

It will include:

1. A central piece of furniture built largely from locally scavenged materials. This would be a card-catalog style structure with many small drawers where the seeds are organized and labelled for easy access. A peaked roof will symbolically connect it to the outdoors.

2. A “work table” with envelopes and supplies for adding seeds to the library, plant ID books, a map of the Bronx with sites where we gathered seeds indicated.

3. Photo and video documentation of our process of gathering the seeds.

4. Live plants in pots on the table, at window sills, and on the floor.

5. A project website including an online catalog of available seeds as well as further documentation of their gathering. We will encourage visitors who take seeds to email us photos of their growth.