Symposium and performances

• 30​ 09​ 2018 •
Floraphilia Botanical Garden as a Colonial Site



Venue: Flora Köln, Am Botanischen Garten 1a, 50735 Cologne
In English and German
Simultaneous translation into English and German will be provided for all symposium sessions

This symposium of the Academy project Floraphilia: On the Interrelations of the Plant World, Botany and Colonialism takes place at the Flora building, a palace-like conservatory made of cast iron and glass built in 1864. The design of the building by Cologne architects Max Nohl and Joseph Felten was modelled on the Crystal Palace in London and the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. In a setting appropriate to the topic of the event, artists and scholars of various disciplines expand on the theme of the exhibition at Academyspace from historical, aesthetic and philosophical perspectives. Botanical gardens collected not just rare and beautiful plants for study and display, but also specialized in cultivating crops that were decisive in European settlement in tropical regions. Government subsidies supported scientific research, and botanical gardens repaid these national investments many times over in the form of new plantations and improved yields in the colonies.

Specific reference to Cologne and its environs plays a special role in the symposium. Closing the event is the performance The Jaguar and the Snake by AMANDA PIÑA, which imagines new spaces in which to experience plants, animals and people.

11:00–11:30 Introduction by Madhusree Dutta and Aneta Rostkowska
11:30–13:00 Keynote address by Shela Sheikh
13:00–14:00 Break
14:00–15:30 Session on botany and botanical gardens in Cologne and Berlin by Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst and Katja Kaiser
15:30–16:00 Artist talk of Maria Thereza Alves
16:00–16:30 Plantifesto, a reading by Mark von Schlegell
16:30–17:00 Break
17:00-18:00 Performance White-man’s foot by Yoeri Guépin
18:00–19:30 Break
19:30–19:30 Performance The Jaguar and the Snake by Amanda Piña

‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’: Colonialism, Taxonomy and the ‘One-world’
Taking leave from collaborative projects with artist Uriel Orlow and academic Ros Gray, in this talk Shela Sheikh tracks multiple narratives of the historical and contemporary relationships between colonialism and botanical gardens, as explored in particular through contemporary art and cultivation practices.

The colonial metropolis of Cologne and colonial botany
With reference to Cologne, Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst will talk about the relationship between colonial botany, colonial education through the construction of colonial sites or space, colonial science, colonial propaganda for the wider public, and (colonial) entertainment.

Economy, science, and international recognition – colonial botany in Berlin
This lecture by Katja Kaiser outlines the priorities of the work of the botanical institutions in Berlin in researching the colonial plant world as well as the associated political, economic, and scientific interests. On the initiative of the Foreign Office of the German Empire, the botanical collections from the German colonies and their research were centralized at the Berlin Botanical Garden and Museum. In addition, the Central Botanical Agency for the German colonies, which was affiliated with the Botanical Garden, took over the transfer of tropical crop plants in the colonial regions; advising the colonial administration, plantation companies, and other interested parties on questions of tropical agriculture; and the popularization of botanical knowledge about the colonies.

In some novels written by Mark von Schlegell plants play an important role. For example in dystopian Venusia (2005) psychoactive flowers are used to keep people in a state of oblivion where they do not remember their past. Other protagonists are sentient plants that possess consciousness and can exist in parallel universes. In Plantifesto, created specifically for this symposium, the author compiles various plant episodes from his writings.

White-man's foot (2018) is a lecture performance by Yoeri Guépin. It transforms the “landscape” of the botanical garden into a story-scape in which plants narrate their witnessing of the slow violence of colonialism and the planting and transplanting of species. The title, White-man’s foot, is taken from the Algonquian name for plantain, the first recorded “invasive” plant to be introduced in North America by European settlers in the 17th century. Ironically, the plant has a long history in Saxon poetry and is known as a sacred medicinal herb used for the treatment of poisoning and infections. Plantain was grown in European monastery gardens and cultivated in botanic gardens. Botanists speculate that the seeds travelled in the clods of mud impacted into the bottom of British and French horses’ hooves. The Algonquian peoples observed that wherever the white man went, this plant would soon spring up. Hence, plantain native to Northern Europe gained the name “White-man’s foot.”

MARIA THEREZA ALVES is an installation artist based in Berlin. Her installation The Return of a Lake (2012), which deals with the cultural, ecological and political history of Chalco, a municipality near Mexico City, was part of documenta 13. Another project, Seeds of Change (2012–2016), examines the exotic vegetation of port cities like Bristol and Liverpool as well as their roots in overseas trade.

MARIANNE BECHHAUS-GERST is professor of African studies at the University of Cologne. Topics of her research include the history of people of African descent in Germany and German colonial history. In addition, she works as a curator and is chair of the KopfWelten association, a local history project that critically engages with the colonial and neo-colonial history of Cologne.

The artistic practice of YOERI GUÉPIN comprises installations, (lecture/) performances and collaborative research projects in which various archival material is recontextualised. His work has been exhibited at ENSAPC YGREC in Paris, at Ormston House in Limerick and at TENT Rotterdam. He has also given lectures at various institutions.

Historian KATJA KAISER conducts research in the areas of colonial history, museum and exhibition history as well as gender studies. Currently she works for a research project at the Centre of Natural History, Hamburg; she previously worked as research associate at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. There, among other things, she took part in the exhibition project German Colonialism: Fragments Past and Present (2016).

AMANDA PIÑA is a choreographer and dancer. Her works address the mechanisms of exclusion and employ non-Western cultural perspectives in contemporary performance. Since 2005, she has collaborated with visual artist and filmmaker Daniel Zimmermann under the label nadaproductions. Their collaborative production WAR - ein Kriegstanz (2013) attained international attention. Amanda Piña lives in Vienna.

MARK VON SCHLEGELL is a science fiction author and cultural critic. His publications include, among others, the novels Venusia (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents 2005), Mercury Station (2009) and Sundogz (2015, both at Semiotext(e) / Native Agents). In addition he has written various theoretical works, including Realometer: Amerikanische Romantik (Merve 2009) and Dreaming the Mainstream (Merve 2013). Mark von Schlegell lives in Cologne.

SHELA SHEIKH is a lecturer at Goldsmiths (University of London), where she convenes the MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy and co-chairs the Critical Ecologies research stream. She lectures and publishes internationally. She is currently working on a multi-platform research project around colonialism, botany and the politics of planting. As part of this, she has co-edited, with Ros Gray, The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions (Third Text special issue, 2018); and, with Uriel Orlow, Theatrum Botanicum (Sternberg Press, 2018).

Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation Alt text