The Dog Chased its Tail to Bite it off

Ongoing research, 2019-

On plants and their movements across space and time. This research is dedicated to look at invasive plants, starting in Vienna and afterwords in the Netherlands. It also examines the historical, social, political, and agro-economic (not agronomic!) aspects of these invasive species.


Occurrence map of Japanese knotweed (fallopia japonica) in the Netherlands, June 2019

#1 The Assembly 

With Barbara Knickmann, Michael Kozelek, Brigitte Neubacher, and Oscar Cueto 

Moderated by Christine Bruckbauer and Alaa Abu Asad

Philomena+, Vienna

A small garden the artist has been taking care of in front of philomena+ in Vienna, presents the first part of the project. What distinguishes this from other gardens and green surfaces in the city is its unusual inhabitants. The artist has been researching the flora around Vienna and Danube river and transferring found specimens into the city. He traces plants’ journeys and uncovers their histories of migration, which reveal the past of particular habitats. Abandoned fields and former industrial areas are home to nonlocal, invasive, and exotic plants. Plant life is always in transition, just like people. As the attitudes towards plants often reflect deeper issues related to economy, social relations, and aesthetics, the artist questions the acceptance and rejection of different plant species by the urban population.

#2 The Observer 

Group exhibition Works by Artists in Residence, KKA Vienna

Furthermore, the project centres around a plant known as Japanese knotweed (fallopia japonica). This fast-growing plant, native to East Asia, was introduced to Europe in the mid- 1800s by Philipp von Siebold. Due to its resistive nature, it soon spread throughout the continent. Although edible and, at times, even planted as cattle food, Japanese knotweed is classified as an invasive species and prohibited in several countries. Because of its aggressive growth, horizontal spreading, and the ability to repress local plants, it became widely detested.

In an endeavour to teach sympathy and responsibility through plant-tending and offer further perspectives on forms of life burdened with negative reputations, Alaa ran a workshop at Volksschule Stiftgasse, where the pupils were encouraged to bring plants from their homes and describe them through stories. Moreover, the artist presented his own Japanese knotweed plant. Through stories combining imagination and facts, the plants become almost humanised, revealed as much more than simple commodities bought for home decoration. When treated with attention and care, a plant becomes a companion dependent on its caregiver. The artist employs video, photographs, and research material to convey a message which transcends plant life and applies to the ways otherness and difference are perceived and treated within communities.