Decamouflaging plant blindness. Use of plants in contemporary art to reclaim histories of the weak.

Plants tend to be overlooked by humans in general. The term 'plant blindness' - inability to notice plants unless they become resources useful for people: medicines, food, textiles etc. - was coined by botanist James H. Wandersee and biologist Elisabeth E. Schussler, but a similar mechanism was also recognized in traditional art history. According to art historian Giovani Aloi, plants either serve as a backdrop lacking individual characteristics, or they do represent a particular kind but within the symbolic order they are reduced to the position of vehicles delegating to some meaning other than themselves. However, against the common imaginary positioning plants as innocent and completely apolitical, there is also an often overlooked tradition of plants' use as political tools. In result, the 'invisible' plants can become a hideout - a camouflage for political actions performed via them. The main goal of the project is to examine contemporary visual art that acts against widespread plant blindness by paying close attention to plants and their political role. I want to map these kinds of artistic projects as a new tendency within contemporary art: the use of plants to decamouflage their political role and to reconstruct the histories of the weak. In this way plants commonly perceived as the lowest in the hierarchy of the living beings can become powerful allies of the subaltern groups and art can become a method to write histories from below.

PhD project
Research: Marta Wódz
Supervision: Hilde Van Gelder

Lieven Gevaert Centre
KU Leuven, Faculty of Arts
Blijde Inkomststraat 21 pb 3313
B-3000 Leuven

Lieven Gevaert Centre
UC Louvain, Archéologie et d'histoire d'art
FIAL - Place Blaise Pascal 1 bte L3.03.13
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve