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Here is a presentation You gave as part of the 2007 UTS CONFERENCE ON COSMOPOLITAN CIVIL SOCIETIES at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.

Weed gathering: ethnobotanical practices in a Cosmopolitan Society

The Conference preamble:

What does cosmopolitanism mean in an age where globalisation is accompanied by the War on Terror and where unprecedented levels of international migration are accompanied by attacks on multiculturalism and heightened ‘border security’ politics?
What futures can we imagine for cosmopolitan civil societies as community advocates and organisations struggle against defunding and the silencing of independent voices?

The UTS Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre organized and hosted the event to address themes of:

* Community activism and social movements
* Migration and civil societies
* Civil Societies and the Third Sector
* Indigenous Australians and civil society
* Cosmopolitan cities and communities
* Popular education and cosmopolitan societies
* Cultural differences and creative practices
* Cosmopolitan diversity and civil societies in developing societies
* Cross cultural dialogues
* Civil Societies and the Environment
* Challenges and opportunities facing contemporary cosmopolitan societies

A pletaphora of various topic where presented with social examples like migrant minorities in Canada or feminist struggles in South Korea and Australia.

Your talk on weeds created good discussion, some for, other against the idea of using botanical species as analogy of immigration.
What you found is that many papers presented during the 2 days conference, aknowledged the same feeling of yours.

Below are the notes for the presentation:

Weed gathering: ethnobotanical practices in a cosmopolitan society

This is not a presentation on findings rather an uncovering of questions.
This investigation-in-progress is the outcome of a personal artistic journey.

According to Cotton, in Ethnobotany. Principles and Applications.
Ethnobotany is considered to encompass all studies which concern the mutual relationship between plants and traditional people.

Through my creative practice I document and analyse the possibilities and restrictions faced by various ethnic groups in Australia practicing an imported and ancestral relationship with the environment.

This paper will present the WeedyConnection project, an online resource aimed at showcasing non-native plants in a new light, opening up new interactions with the Australian environment.

I have always been interested in weeds, for different reasons in different places.
I was born and grew-up in a dairy farm in northern italy, and together with the stock we also managed several acres of pastures for internal uses, corn and wheat for internal uses and external sales and poplar trees for sale to the timber industry.

We had Pigs and Goats, dairy cows and meat bulls, a vegetable patch and a small orchard.

I have been aware of the concept of weed since a tender age, when my parents use to send me down the potatoe patch to descern useful species from the unwanted ones.

Back then i knew already that the concept of weed is a construct, out of invested interest.
Nature doesn’t distinguish between good or bad species, we, humans, do.
For a miriad of different reasons, but all of them centered to our, human, benefit.

When i moved to australia i worked in orchards for years, then garden centres, now art centres.

I was amazed when came into contact with the agricultural australia, to learn about the legal restrains imposed on botanical species.

Here in australia there is an act of government, the Noxious Weed Act 1993, a national piece of legislation, which dictates which plants are allowed or not to live in this country.
It goes much further. The act provides for a special branch of the law, administered by the department of agriculture and primary industries which legislate each non native plant in this country and a number of natives too.
The legislation informs a special task force of law enforcers, who go around far and wide giving $200 fines on the spot to anybody found guilty of not suppressing particular species according to the guidelines dictated by the Noxious Weed Act 1993.

A $200 on the spot fine to the farmer who doesnt destroy a bush of blackberry down the bottom of his paddock, $200 on the spot fine to the orchardist who doesnt make sure the willow down the creek is prevented from flowering and fruiting.

———–now————–
This is happenin in a continent were most of biodiversity is been affected irreversibily by human intervention.
David Cole the biologist says “all wilderness ecosystems would be artificial constructs, to some extent conscious reconstructions of what human thinks is natural”

This is also happening in a continent where most of the environmental knowledge is lost, forever.
With the loss of aboriginal languages and cultures through two centuries of genocidal practice, we now have a social make-up in this continent that has minimal, if not nil, direct interaction with the environment.
I am not talking about farmers with cattle or sheep, or orchadist with apples, mangoes or the newly discovered olive trees. Those are a sector of our economy aimed at using the land untill there is no use anymore, see the woodchipping industry or cotton industry.
I am talking about the old person who takes the grandchildren down the creek and show the young listener how to collect, store and prepare that particular plant which will fix the sore knee.
I’m talking about an overall sentiment of belonging and placement.

How many of us know how to alleviate an headhache without resorting to panadol?

The sentiment of a new awareness towards nature is echoed across several disciplines and social practices, like the ’100 miles diet’ movement, which originated in Canada from a couple of enviromental activists, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon

The ’100 miles Diet’ restricts followers to provide for themselves within a specific geographical delimitation. The commercial statement has its roots in contesting the globalized economic systems which relies on fossil fuel transport (at great expense to the environment) in order to shift primary produce from one side of the globe to the other in several loops before it reaches the ultimate user.
From the 100milediet.org website “when the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically travelled at least 1,500 miles”

I argue that in a cosmopolitan society, civil or not, the costant shift of cultures trasplanting and reassessing themselves in alien environments (social and botanicals) foster a disconnection to local ecosystems.

This sentiment is mirrored also in the preamble of a unveristy experimental degree offered at the University of Western Sydney hawksbury, Social Ecology.

The guiding principles, as emphasised by Murray Bookchin were unity in diversity and complexity, spontaneity, complementary and mutualistic rather than hierarchical relationships, active, participatory democracy and bioregionalism.

The funding chair of Social Ecology, Stuart B. Hill, suggests the work of various accademics and social educators like Graham Ellis-Smith.
Graham teaches programs designed to reawaken the deep connection, which he believes, exists between humanity and Nature,” we are essentially calling forward something innate in every person at a deeper level”.

Sounds all very hippy and shamanistic, doesn’t it? But hey, as Jenny Monroe said about the struggles of indigenous peoples: ‘I am not ashamed in pulling in any support I can find”

In the hunter valley i found the teachings of Peter Andrews, the Natural Sequence Farming concept.

Peter Andrews, is a third generation farmer who has been involved in farming and horse breeding for 60 years. He grew up on a property near Broken Hill and spent much time with his stockman father and members of the Aboriginal community learning to read the country.
He believes that heavy grazing of streambed banks following European settlement has, mainly by reducing vegetation, significantly affected the landscape, resulting in dry spells turning into drought conditions faster than they should, bio-diversity being reduced, and in many instances fresh water being drained off, resulting in salt being released into the streambed.

Peter Andrews has found that even plants labeled as weeds can serve as pioneering species in inhibiting nutrient and soil erosion. They collect and supply essential substances for environmental health. Once slashed, fertility is built up and the weeds are replaced naturally by palatable grasses. To maximize production and conservation, results require a good understanding of interaction of the roles of clays and sands in the process.

The principles of Natural Sequence Farming are complex and holistic, above all are beyond what i am presenting today.
Please visit his website at www.nsfarming.com for further information.

As my argument just centres on the denial of cultural interaction.
I grew up in a country where, come spring, you get out and collect Dandelions and wild asparagus as a seasonal treat, here in australia i am denied the right to teach my daughters what a dandelion or wild asparagus looks like in the wild.
I am obliged by law to suppress and prevent them from fruiting.

Let me now provide an example, Boletus, the mushroom.
Mushroom picking is a popular seasonal activity for many European cultures.
I can speak from my Italian background experience but other culture groups such as Macedonian, Russian, Ex-Yugoslavian and Polish do just as much have a well entrained connection with the activity.
There is a fantastic essay about the cultural relationship of the polish community with the Belanglo State Forest, 1 and a half hour south of Sydney.
The writer, Max Kwiatkowsky, uses the practice as an example of non-Anglo-Celtic interpretation of landscape, and how this is something quite unseen or un-acknowledged by the main stream media/culture/policy makers.
As he states in his conclusion,
“ Belanglo Pine Plantation example counters commonly held assumption of ethnic spaces being primarily an urban phenomenon.
Patently, ethnic minority groups, whether Poles, Macedonian, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Greeks or others, do get out and about just like all other Australians at least occasionally leaving the cities for recreational purposes. It’s just that the places they like to visit, and the way they view and use such places, may significantly differ from the Anglo-Celtic norm.”
Not everybody goes bush camping, barbecue-fishing-rod-and-boat-ramp style.
In a exponentialy cosmopolitan society like Australia different kind of culturally-driven interaction with the environment should be fostered, as rightful symbiosis.
With all of this research in mind i present my artistic argument.
In the past years I set-up audio and self-guided tours of various environments, as part of sculpture shows or residencies

The tours guide participants through a number of display panels highlighting some plants commonly known as weeds.
I employ botanical species to metaphorically dispute the understanding of multiculturalism within the context of the Australian population, the plurality of cultures and genetic background and stories. Within a socio-ecological argument I acknowledge the various differences of costumes/customs which exists in our culturally diverse environment and highlight the traditional connections with introduced species.

The framing of “illegal” and unwanted flora within a spectacle context draws attention to the concept of “permissible species” as a social construct. Weeds are defined by a nation’s laws, and what is declared a weed in one place may be a precious resource in another. There is a significant metaphorical connection between this definition of “weed” and the arbitrary restriction imposed on human migration by national governments.
—————————————————————————————————————–

Cosmopiltan civil society acknowledges the interconnectness of all life forms, yet political restrictions affect not only the human side of the equation.
As oppose to Natural Law, which is based on what is assumed to be the permanent characteristics of human nature, as understood in ethical philosophy, theology, law and social theory,Civil society is seen as the enactment of Positive Law,
I am not very good with binarious contrasts but i would argue the concept of civil societies should embrace also an awareness of bioregionalism, acknoledging our very neighbourhood as an ecosystem.

In terms of cosmopolitanism then, attentive considering should be given to the multifaceted reality of personal and group interaction with the ecosystem.

If civil societies are understood as conglomerates of civic organizations and institutions then i argue it should also acknowledge the environment in the equation.
We live in a biosphere, before a society.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
break
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

This is the presentation I gave as part of the Environment Week lecture series at the University of Sydney.
In it I introduce the main driving ideas behind the WeedyConnection art project.

flier for talk

Sustainability talk

I have always been interested in weeds, for different reasons in different places thou.
I was born and grew-up in a dairy farm in northern italy, and together with the stock we also managed several acres of pastures for internal uses, corn and wheat for internal uses and external sales and poplars for sale to the timber industry.

We had Pigs and Goats, dairy cows and meat bulls, vegetable patch and a small orchard.

I have been aware of the concept of weed since tender age, when my parents use to send me down the potatoes patch to descern useful species from the unwanted ones.

Back then i knew already that the concept of weed is an economic construct.
Nature doesn’t distinguish between good or bad species, we, humans, do.
For a miriad of different reasons, but all of them centered to our, human, benefit.

When i moved to australia i worked in orchards for years, then garden centres, now art centres.

I was amazed when got in contact with the agricoltural make-up of australia, to learn about the legal restrains imposed on botanical species.

Here in australia there is an act of government, the Noxious Weed Act 1993, a national piece of legislation wich dictates what is allowed or not to live in this country.
It goes much further. The act provides for a special branch of the law, administered by the department of agriculture and primary industries which legislate each non native plant in this country and a number of native too.
The legislation inform a special task force of law enforcers, which go around far and wide giving $200 fines on the spot to anybody found guilty of not suppressing particular species according to the guidelines dictated by the Noxious Weed Act 1993.

$200 fine on the spot to the farmer who doesnt destroy a bush of blackberry down the bottom of his paddock, $200 on the spot fine to the orchardist who doesnt make sure the willow down the creeck is prevented from flowering and fruiting.

We live in a continent where most of the environmental knowledge is lost, forever.
With the loss of aboriginal languages and cultures through two centuries of genocidal practice by the ruling class, we now have a social make-up in this continent that has minimal, if not nil, direct interaction with the environment.
I am not talking about farmers with cattle or sheep, or orchadist with apples, mangoes or the newly discovered olive trees. Those are a sector of our economy aimed at using the land till there is no use anymore, see woodchipping industry or cotton industry.
I am talking about the old person who takes the nephew down the creek and show the young listener how to collect, store and prepare that particular plant which will fix the sore knee.

How many of us know how to alleviate an headhache without resorting to panadol?

There is a famous french landscape designer, Gilles Clement, who is putting forward new ideas to environmental developers- “to respect the behavior of nature itself”.
In the gardens he design, Clement strives to do as little against the flow of nature as he possibly can.
Clement wrote famous essays on the subject , like Le Jardin en movement, The Movement Garden, in 1999.
In it he explains some of his philosophy. He says that “left to their biological devices, plants good or bad will rub shoulders and intertwine in ways that determine where and how they grow. It’s the perpetual modification of vegetative spaces that justifies the term ‘movement’, and the fact of overseeing this movement that justifies the term garden”.
This essay was written about the Movement Garden at Andre Citroen Park, in Paris. It was there Clement put his concepts to work. It is there that seeds were sown and plants placed and they have since been left to fill in as they wish. They grow in every direction, untamed and never pruned. There are grasses, roses, bamboo, poppies and buddleia all left on their own. If one overtakes the other so be it, even the weeds here are part of the space. There is also no clear path by which to transverse this garden. Visitors are left to make their own way as best they see fit.

Clement not only has strong beliefs about how plants relate to one another, but also
how man interacts with plants and nature in general.
He believes that man must learn to establish “equilibrium between human activity and natural resources” and strives to educate people about interacting with the landscape and of their “responsibility for cultivating the earth”.

Closer to home there is the teachings of Peter Andrews, the Natural Sequence Farming concept.

Peter Andrews, is a third generation farmer who has been involved in farming and horse breeding for 60 years.He grew up on a property near Broken Hill and spent much time with his stockman father and members of the Aboriginal community learning to read the country.
He believes that heavy grazing of streambed banks following European settlement has, mainly by reducing vegetation, significantly increased stream velocities. This has resulted in gouging of streambeds and the lowering of water tables in floodplains.
Peter Andrews sees the effect of these changes in the landscape resulting in dry spells turning into drought conditions faster than they should, biodiversity being reduced, and in many instances fresh water that once sat on top of saline water being drained off, resulting in salt being released into the streambed.

Peter Andrews has found that even plants labeled as weeds can serve as pioneering species in inhibiting nutrient and soil erosion. They collect and supply essential substances for environmental health. Once slashed, fertility is built up and the weeds are replaced naturally by palatable grasses. To maximize production and conservation results requires a good understanding of interaction of the roles of clays and sands in the process.

The principles of Natural Sequence Farming are complex and holistic, above all are beyond what i am presenting today.
Please visit his website at www.nsfarming.com for further informations.

Because i’m an artist after all, what would i know?
And my argument just centre on the denial of cultural interaction.
I grew up in a country where comes spring you get out and collect Dandelions and wild asparagus as a seasonal treat, here in australia i am denied the right to teach my daughters what a dandelion or wild asparagus looks like in the wild.
I am obliged by law to suppress and prevent them from fruiting.
I will now show a short video of a botanical intervention i set-up in an abbandoned garden in western sydney 4 years ago.

Collaborating with actress Maxine Foxxx i devized a Self-Guided Audio Tour.
I am a trouble maker and a media jammer, the whole point of the project was to take for a ride the ever present national parks self-guided tours, this time thou, the subject where the infamous weeds.

The idea of working with weeds re-incarnated itself several times in the past years.
The latest one is now on at a sculpture show in Wollombi, in the Hunter Region.

WeedyConnection, a self-guided tour of the weeds of Australia.

The tour guides participants through a number of display panels highlighting some plants commonly known as weeds. The resulting sporadic info-points is augmented by a reader and a map that the visitors use to discover the plants in their habitat.

The framing of “illegal” and unwanted flora within a spectacle context draws attention to the concept of “permissible species” as a social construct. Weeds are defined by a nation’s laws, and what is declared a weed in one place may be a precious resource in another. There is a significant metaphorical connection between this definition of “weed” and the arbitrary restriction imposed on human migration by national governments.
In the proposed intervention I will employ botanical species to metaphorically dispute the understanding of multiculturalism within the context of the Australian population, the plurality of cultures, genetic background and stories. Within a socio-ecological argument I will acknowledge the various differences of costumes/customs which exists in our culturally diverse environment and highlight the traditional connections with introduced species.

Irony is a key component of the work and on the panels I present peculiar and bizarre uses of the unwanted botanical species, creating an aura around the plants in an attempt to elevate the weeds to pedestals usually reserved to more “legitimate” vegetation.

4 Responses to about

  1. tara morelos says:

    Loved your Wollombi weedyconnection!!! spent hours immersed in weedy matters and came away more ‘fertile and fruitful’ for the experience. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!

  2. info says:

    thanks Tara, and you are the lucky winner of a mini set of the panels!
    How?
    well, you are the first person ever to comment on this blog and i decided last week that the first commentator gotta win a prize. yes, i am talking about positive reinforcement, you never know it may work!

    send me an email with your post address and i will eagerly reward.
    nbxdy

  3. Ian Andrews says:

    I picked up Peter Andrews’ (no relation) book “Back from the Brink,” last week. He makes some good points about the usefulness of weeds but I feel that his methods must be taken with a grain of salt. His practicises might be suited to his environment (Bylong) and for his particular purposes (growing grass for horses), but they should not be taken as universally valid.
    There are two problems here: 1. the issue of highly agressive invasive weeds (Andrews refuses to accept this as a problem), and the use of the land (eg. forest, crops, garden, pasture). On my block I have pasture, eucalypt forest and rainforest. The most invasive weeds are in the rainforest. In the pasture the most invasive weed is giant parramatta grass. I am quite happy to grow thistles, paterson’s curse, cobblers pegs, crofton weed, mistflower, paddy’s lucern, introduced sedges, fireweed, and other fleshy weeds in this area but it is absolutely necessary to pull out/poison the giant parramatta grass as it quickly becomes a monoculture. I even let wandering jew (Tradscantia abiflora) grow in this area as it is useful in supressing the giant parramatta grass. In other areas like forest and garden Tradscantia has to be controlled because it quickly forms a dense mat that stops anything else from growing.I have even found that it can be composted (against popular opinion), over a couple of years, in darkness, and then used in lightly infested areas without any problems.
    In marginal rainforest areas I will let a number of weeds grow if they are doing a good job of shading native seedlings (wild tobacco in particular). I also tolerate lantana because it keeps the soil moist and can be used to shield native seedlings and as barriers to restrict the movement of feral dogs and cats. But there are a number of weeds in my area that I can’t condone under any circumstances. These are privet, camphor laurel, blackberry and moth vine (Araujia sericifera (horortum)). The seeds of these plants are dispersed by wind and birds and the plants grow in any environment from deep shade to full sunlight. So its not safe to grow them anywhere. The most destuctive of these weeds is moth vine. I’ve seen 50 or so of these plants smother a small tree and pull it right down to the ground. For this reason it is also called the “cruel vine.” It has no known use to anything but aphids. The others quickly displace native species.
    Another good point Andrews makes is about eucalytpts. In my areas of rainforest I see them as weeds because they introduce a fire threat into an area with a reasonably low fire risk. The more frequently the forest burns the more gums appear until they become close to being a monospecies. I will let them grow if they are providing shade to rainforest seedlings but when the seedlngs mature I use the gums for timber or firewood.
    Don’t grow gums around your house. Its asking for trouble. Do grow Pittosporum undulatum. It is not a weed (as is regularly claimed by councils and regen groups) on the NSW coast. The reason it’s growing so well in bushland close to houses is because these places are no longer regularly burnt by the indigenous inhabitants. This is a good thing. It means that the bush in these places (usually south-eastern slopes) is reverting to a more brushy (rainforest like) less fire prone, and more diverse environment. Removing Pittosporum from littoral rainforest an dunes (where it forms an important component of the canopy) is sheer vandalism. Yes Pittosporum suppresses the germination of native (read dry sclerophyll forest) species in dry sclerophyll (eucalypt)forests. But this is not all bad. It is just a sign that these environments are always changing. If we believe that these dry sclerophyll forests, the product of 80000 years of regular burning, are the absolute “natural” environment for all eternity (this is a common ideology among green goups and scientists) then we risk falling into a very dubious politics: ie. that the original inhabitants are equated to fauna. On the other hand there is really no such thing as a totally natural environment as long as human beings exist and inhabit the land.

    Pittosporum has some uses too. The opened seeds can be boiled up to produce a gum. This gum can be used as a safe herbicde on weed seedlings in fragile areas – by smothering the plants. (sugar can also be used for this purpose I believe).

  4. Pingback: weedyconnection » Presenting weedy connections

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