THE DOG CHASED ITS TAIL TO BITE IT OFF
Ongoing research, 2018–
In 1823 Philipp Franz von Siebold sailed under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to Japan, where he used his role as resident doctor and scientist at the Dejima trading post to amass a vast botanical collection. Among the species von Siebold introduced to Europe was Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). Today considered a “non native invasive species” in places like the United Kingdom, the plant is now treated as a scourge. Alaa Abu Asad meditatively traces the violent, xenophobic speech used to describe the plant and its parallels in the language used to describe human migrants.
On a planet where ultimately very little is truly native, Abu Asad questions which plant species become accepted as the rightful inhabitants of nation states over time and which are forever relegated to the foreign. Tulips, though first imported to Holland from the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century, are today proudly claimed a national treasure. No such fate has met the Japanese knotweed. The plant remains pursued across countries and continents as every conceivable attempt is made to eradicate it.
Japanese knotweed survives where other species cannot. Its nonhierarchical root system enables it to thrive in industrial wastelands, erupt through concrete, and even disrupt electrical lines. And yet little thought is given to the underlying causes aiding this plant to flourish, from pollution to reduced frost brought on by climate change. The plant is blamed for the wrongdoings of others in the name of expediency and self-preservation. For Abu Asad, these plants reveal to us the human condition. Even as many try to expunge it from the earth, Japanese knotweed’s resilience continues to insist on presence.
Amanda Sarroff for Van Eyck Academy open studios, 2020
Japanese knotweed in blossom (right), Ghent, August 2022
Japanese knotweed in blossom, Ghent, September 2022
Future companion, Timelab, Ghent, 2023
Handmade research book, 11x8x2.5 cm (LWH), 2020. Cover image: Eriz Moreno
Installation view, Mediamatic, Amsterdam, 2023
Installation detail: research terms translated into Arabic, digital image of a book cover, and a Japanese knotweed dry stem. Photo credit Romy Finke (Van Eyck Academy) 2020
Japanese knotweed expansion in the Netherlands between January 2012 and July 2020. Please bear in mind both the seasons cycle and the life cycle of the plant as it dies in winter and regrows anew in spring. The many local and national campaigns and attempts to kill the plant using different methods (varying from chemical herbicides like glyphosate to trimming and soil coverage and digging) play another role in the plant growth as well.
Installation view from Weed Control exhibition at AMQF in Ramallah, 2020
Installation detail: Victorian imperial botany. Working tools, handmade research book and research material, Jan Van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, 2020
Installation view: research material, 3-months-old JK plant, JK dry sticks, and working tools. KKA Vienna, 2019