Hu Fang: Why We Look At Plants in a Corrupted World

Engraving from the book Hortus Malabaricus (1693), a Dutch treatise dealing with the medicinal properties of the flora in the Indian state of Kerala.

Excerpts from Hu Fang’s essay on E-Flux:

There is never a moment when plants are not moving.

Perhaps awed by the power of this night writing, humans produce poems and literature about plants, images of plants, social metaphors about plants. By means of anthropomorphosis, we adopt the wilderness. We turn plants into the mirror image of culture in order to dispel their mysterious, voiceless power.

Looking, by means of humble contemplation, allows us to enter into a dimension shared with plants. Once there, we do not willingly part with each other.

We have been documenting the disappearance of plants while generating an aesthetics of disappearance: humans appreciate the plants in a botanical garden or park for the value of their beauty and rarity.

There is another extreme: contemporary plant products used for treating and nourishing humanity are actually related to industrialization. Few of their ingredients come from the wild—most are the product of mass cultivation on the assembly line of green products. By way of commodity circulation, contemporary plant products have become a monument to the circulation of species, commemorating the fact that they have not yet vanished from humanity’s field of vision.

Most of the effectiveness of contemporary plant products has probably evolved from humanity’s endlessly accumulating projection of emotion over a long historical process, but there is no way to alter the plant’s current destiny of being consumed.From this we can understand why contemporary plant products are always packaged with especially lifelike images of plants,always duplicating to the utmost level the corresponding colors and fragrances, so that humans have gone from looking at plants to looking at likenesses of plants, which are used to continuously invoke the vitality that the plants themselves possessed before they were picked, processed, and fabricated.

If we take ancient survival wisdom (of medicinal plants, for example) as a starting point and continue through to today’s secret formulas for profit, the history of plant products itself interrogates the evolution of bio-politics: What is it that permeates our bodies, molds our life experiences, forms our perceptions of the world? What is it that can truly save us from our calamities,without our life become one of consuming false goods?

Plucking a leaf, and repeatedly chewing it as a giraffe would, yourecall how plants enter the human body. Stroking a plant, you areimpressed by how such a peculiar connection arises between itsown anatomy and that of a human. Plants, as well as the scenesand memories we associate with them, will constitute part of theunfinished manuscript of anthropology. How might we write,through innumerable creases in the foliage, the remnants of the forest, the wastelands of the city, our current methods for coexisting with the world?

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)

Palm Reading – 99PI

percoconewgrowthpalmtree

My “New Growth” Sculptures were installed recently at Drew University. It was a fantastic setting for these sculptures and great opportunity, but one funny thing happened right after installation. Before the cement was dry on the palm tree, someone had stolen it.

Of course I took this as a misplaced sign of approval – pilfering is a complement whereas vandalism is the opposite.

After a campus-wide email (the digital equivalent of LOST/REWARD posters), one half of the sculpture was returned anonymously – It was left in a parking lot, propped against the car of an administrator. (Each tree is made up of two sides, front and back.) I recreated the missing side using the returned half as reference, and all was well.

I recently heard the podcast episode “Palm Reading” on the fantastic podcast 99% Invisible regarding palm theft (which is apparently a thing….some live palms are worth up to 20K!) and also an analysis of what palms signify in our culture.

[Orientalist Study, Figures by the Water, Egypt (c. 1890) by A. Marchettini]

The Spirit of Elsewhere….the Holy Land…Exoticism…Orientalism….Luxury and Leisure….

What New Jersey college student wouldn’t want an occasional taste of these things, all evoked by this particular species of plant.

#WeWillBeRemindedOfLuxuryEverywhereWeGo

Take a listen.