This is a body of work made in relation to the large-scale group project Response-ability (see website) which began under the larger collective of Johannesburg Lasts (see special edition of Ellipses). Response-ability was realised in collaboration with the Greenhouse Project, a community garden in Joubert Park, inner city Johannesburg.
Artist book, 2021
Images by Shaifali Bramdev
Kind is a collection of plant stories, dealing with long histories of interspecies relationships. The plants discussed have all been part of the greenhouse garden: a former Victorian hothouse that is now used as a communal urban farm. Kind takes on colonial categories of nature that came with late 19th century botanical gardens and the value systems they imposed. Each plant introduced cannot be reduced to a category or product.
Read the book online here.
Etchings and wooden sign, 2021
Made in collaboration with Shaifali Bramdev and Editions Verso
This site specific piece investigates how orchids, bees and humans have co-evolved to manipulate each other’s behaviour. Orchidelerium is primarily concerned with how orchids may well be one of the few survivors of the expected mass extinction of species during the capitalist-fueled Age of the Anthropocene. Our starting point was the Bee Orchid, Ophrys Apifera, who mimics the female Long-Horned Bee in order to trick males into copulating with them, unwittingly collecting and distributing its pollen. We proceed to explore how Euro-American human societies have been obsessed with orchids for their exotic qualities since the 19th century. This led to the looting of colonised tropical countries which continues today in fragile economies with disappearing wildlands. We imagine what might happen to local orchids and the endangered bees that pollinate them through text and drawing. Orchidelerium takes the form of a typical sign found in botanical gardens. The site of the Greenhouse Project garden was once a colonial hothouse with an orchid house.
Orchids, bees and humans have co-evolved to manipulate each others’ behaviour. Over centuries, orchid flowers developed to attract insect and animal pollinators. The Bee Orchid, Ophrys Apifera (A), mimics both the scent and appearance of the lower half of the female Eucera Longicornis, the Long-horned Bee (B). Male bees are then tricked into copulating with the orchid, unwittingly collecting its pollen. Many people believe that the orchid flower is the only living memory of the Long-horned Bee as it is highly endangered. Bee Orchids masquerading as Eucera Longicornis still grow in the scattered wilds of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. But they are most commonly found in hothouses.
Orchid species have bent their appearance to seduce bees, yet it is their attractiveness to humans that may well lead to their survival. Their appeal as tropical exotica reached its height during the Victorian orchidelirium (c. 1840 – 1900). The era of orchid madness in Europe and America led to fanatics seeking out newer and more exotic blooms. Gatherers were sent to colonised tropical locations and ventured further into rainforests to find new species. These were stolen and amassed with no regard for local ecologies or communities.
The craze is still alive today, as is the looting of fragile economies and their disappearing wildlands. Artificial processes of hybridization have become increasingly more sophisticated and developed a whole new world of orchids that cohabitate better with their adoring humans. Most valued for their outlandish appearance, orchids will no longer need to attract their former insect lovers to help their species continue. The sought after flowers look set to move into a new way of being, while bee populations dwindle. Future orchids, developed in the hothouse away from natural cycles, could be constructed as monuments to extinct bees. In South Africa, the exquisite colour and spidery tentacles of Bartholina Burmanniana might be plucked from extinction and modified for this purpose. The invented Ophrys Burmanniana(C) could become a favoured collectible. While the well known Eucera Longicornis bee will most likely be memorialised, its Southern family has received less attention. The former pollinators of the Bartholina Burmanniana -the Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa caffra), Leafcutter Bee (Megachile frontalis) and Blue Banded Bee (Amegillia) (D)– are bound to fade away.
Response-ability was realised with the generous funding of the Prince Claus Foundation and the Goethe Institüt South Africa.
Wooden signs, paper paste mural, 2020
This intervention was made for the Johannesburg Lasts project Rally (see here) at the Melpark Sports Centre in Johannesburg. Botanical signs for the weeds growing in between two tennis courts were installed. A large mural dealt with the history of the area in terms of its plants.