The Giant Hogweed
Karlin Studios / PRAGUE (Czech Republic)
25.03.2021 – 06.05.2021
Ingela Ihrman’s The Giant Hogweed and Sonia Levy’s For the Love of Corals are two interrelated solo exhibitions presented simultaneously at Karlin Studios curated by Borbála Soós. They each address issues around nature management techniques in relation to specific species and touch upon colonial histories, breeding, care, landscape management and future ecologies. Which plant and animal persons are invited and welcome in our idealist vision of nature? Who are to be saved from extinction and who are deemed invasive and prosecuted for their specific qualities? The projects question what kind of species and relationships will constitute our future landscapes, and how are the new paradigms constructed for environmental conservation and natural history that emerge in the wake.
As evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano and academic Prudence Gibson explain in their essay The Feminist Plant , historically, vegetal life has been regarded as passive, silent, sessile and inferior. And while some, especially spectacularly flowering species (such as water lilies), have been revered as iconic for their beauty, often their other qualities, including their versatile sexuality, have been kept flat. A feminist approach to plant life involves dismantling these conventions. The giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is an exceptional plant to consider in this context, endowed with a unique agency including a rhetoric of malignant intentions. Native to the Western Caucasus, it was introduced in Britain in the 19th century as an ornamental plant. Subsequently, it escaped from gardens and quickly spread “out of control” as an “aggressive invasive species” to other areas in Europe and North America. Its reputation comes from the fact that the phototoxic sap in its stem, roots, leaves, flowers and seeds can cause skin burns in combination with sunlight, including serious blistering and scars. Moreover, the affected areas can continue to react when exposed to the sun for up to 7 years. Deemed unwanted and dangerous, this plant has been actively persecuted. As far as creating an enemy goes, in the English rock band Genesis' 1971 song the giant hogweed even became a Russian agent in the shadow of the Cold War. As the lyrics also points out, this sinister, noxious weed often colonises riverbanks and spaces left by humans. Nothing can stop them / Around every river and canal their power is growing / Stamp them out / We must destroy them / They infiltrate each city with their thick dark warning odour... Despite considerable efforts, the plant evades eradication through the agency of certain feral qualities . The unique resilience is due to its capacity to spread quickly, outcompete other vegetation through rapid growth and withstand most weed killers. While being feral can be regarded as a feature of uncontainability, queerness and activist resistance, the subjective measurement of wildness is also a significant factor defining the management policies that have accompanied the species.
Curated by Borbála Soós