Working Plants from Afar
Ephemeral installation and participative workshops
In spring 2023, the art collective Epicuro Lab presents an ephemeral installation at the garden of the Museu d'Història de la Immigració de Catalunya (MhiC), based on the sowing of the plant commonly known as rapeseed and the observation of its growth to reflect on the meaning and use of plant species and their parallels with human immigration.
Rapeseed is a hybrid species, Brassica napus, unknown in nature, whose origins lie somewhere between the eastern Mediterranean and India. A close relative of cabbages, it is now found on every continent, and has been cultivated for thousands of years as a source of oil for food, lamps, and soap, and now for industrial purposes.
Despite its illustrious history, it has never been accorded the status of a noble or sacred crop, as is the case, for example, with wheat, corn or rice, which also come from afar. On the contrary, rapeseed has a bad reputation. It is cultivated anyway, because it is useful and necessary: in the past it was used to produce oil for human consumption, now it serves as a raw material for producing biodiesel.
Metaphorically speaking, it can be seen as a "working plant": a mongrel (even bastard) species, little respected, but tolerated for its usefulness. In a sense, "it does the work that nobody else wants to do", as is often said about immigrants.
Even if the plant is not invasive, some of its seeds "escape" from cultivated fields and naturalise on the margins, generally surviving in a squalid form. In recent years, naturalised populations of genetically modified, herbicide-resistant oilseed rapeseed have appeared in several countries in wastelands and ditches on major global road systems.
A Working Plant from Afar - Installation and Workshops
The cultivation of oilseed rape (another name of the same plant) invites us to reflect. No organism exists in isolation from other organisms, or as an absolutely independent entity. Each living thing constitutes interactions with the others to form a biocenosis, a community of living things. Despite its solitary lack of recognition, the rapeseed is the best exponent of what can be called a proletarian and planetary biocenosis, a community of plants that work for their masters without rights or recognition, which we modify to serve our interests and which we end up blaming for troubles that have little or nothing to do with the plants' behaviour.
The installation will allow the museum to extend the narrative of immigration, which begins within the walls of the main building, out into the garden and the urban ecosystem. Apart from contributing to one of the thousands of possible immigration narratives, the work will inform visitors about the phenology and development of the crop. Despite its simplicity and status as an unprivileged species, it is a precious plant that treats visitors to a feast for the eyes when it is in bloom. Its banal uses are embellished in spring by the photogenic and ephemeral beauty of its yellow flowers.
In collaboration with