Soils-Habit-Plants [2017-18]
in collaboration with Elke Marhoefer

16mm film transferred to digital, color/sound, 12 min., Japan/Germany.




A plant contemplates by contracting the elements from which it originates — light, carbon, and the salts — and it fills itself with colors and odors that in each case qualify its variety, its composition: it is sensation in itself.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy? (1994)

*

How conceivable is this: a plant as an aesthetic machine; an automaton that does not act, only contemplates? Yet, it creates itself in the passivity of being a "sensation in itself." How to read this capacity for passive creation: is it a force, or a power of being affected?

In general we understand force and power as a source of activity. This cognitive habit follows from the traditional politics' conception of force as the power to act over other's action; therefore the deficiency of action is mostly interpreted as a sign of powerlessness. However, one cannot exclude existence of the other side of power — the capacity for being affected. This kind of inactive power equally belongs to those who act and do not act: force is an affect and it is coupled with the power of being affected. The notion of "contemplation" draws our attention to the "otherwise" of force and delivers us to a plant-sense, to a machine-sense as the other-than-human powers. This notion is useful for interrupting the identification between force and action, and allows to put an emphasize on the precedence of the power to be affected.

Film theorist Andre Bazin once wrote: “Photography affects us like a phenomenon in nature, like a flower or a snowflake.” ( “O,” 1:13) Indeed, to liken a plant to photographic image, one has to fashion a contemplative agency — perhaps a contractile soul — which observes the outside and retains its elements in a sensation. In the "Soils-Habit-Plants" the camera and its operators attempt a transformation to become capable of observing minute details of the three vegetative protagonists and their environments. The goal is to discover the plants’ habits and document how they contract themselves with the elements of soil, sun, water and air. Habit introduces duration and rhythm into this process while habitat makes up a space for it and thus renders it visible. In the film such intimate and immediate observation is interrupted by the two reference-images: a historical photograph and results of the soils conditions’ laboratory test. The interstice insists on a narrative and historical dimension of the observed environments.

**

The three plants in the film are typical for landscapes shared between humans and nonhumans. Despite their widespread and ubiquitous status, they can be called “fringe” species. This implies, that they neither belong to “wilderness”, nor to “culture”. They upset easy division of species on “useful” and “useless” and create contradictions in representations of the landscape.

Wild millet is an archetype of the domesticated Japanese barnyard millet. According to a widespread conviction wild millet is a weed, or in other words it is usually present on the patches of human-disturbed land. As an element of cereals (Gramineae) agricultural assemblages, this plant has been accompanying human activities since early times. Often to be found in the neighbourhood of rice, wild millet perhaps originated from an environment, similar to the one from which rice was domesticated. Despite their habitual similarities, wild millet receives exceptionally negative attention from most of the cultivators. While rice is romanticized, wild millet is discriminated and weeded as a pest. However, one might understand wild millet as a disturbance of the rice fields’ monoculture, and thereby as an agent of biodiversity. The presence of wild millet in rice fields reminds that until 1880 its “cultivated” relative was a staple crop in Japan, which gradually disappeared as a victim of modernization and switch to monoculture agriculture.

What is incredible about the plant, is its amazing robustness and adaptability to weeding: during the centuries of cohabitation with rice it developed mimicry to a rice plant, which allowed it to stay unnoticed by the cultivators at the times of hand weeding. Wild millet is not the only example of a plant, that entered into a machinic assemblage of agriculture on its own. Rye and oats are famous for becoming agricultural crops without intended breeding and selection by human agents. This particular assemblage emerged rather due to the will of the weeds to preserve in their environment combined with an unintentional selection by humans. At a certain point a threshold was crossed and what was weeds became rye and oats. When thinking through this example, it is important to dispense with the human and his needs as an imminent term: "domestication" occurred unconsciously and rather due to the striving of rye and oats. Also in the agricultural assemblage, human shall be seen as a kind of reproductive amendment of the plants, captured in the assemblage by the plant species.

Another important point not to be overlooked, is that the becoming-crop does not proceed without becoming-weedy of the agricultural environment. This is the crucial point, which has been absolutely ignored and suppressed by industrial models of agriculture. Instead of looking for what kind of sense various weeds make in the agricultural field, what is their contribution to the resiliency of the environment and which of them can be engaged as an agricultural crop, the bet has been made on the herbicides and total suppression of the weedy "other." However, the agricultural assemblages have their own agential power and continue to evolve. Though, a difference between the older and newer ones remains: hand weeding gave rise to the new crops, while the application of herbicides results in perpetuation of "resistant weeds."

Such is the case with the wild millet, as it has evolved high resistance to chemical herbicides. Going against the logic of agrochemical industry, one shall regard this as a positive development. Robustness and ability to resist natural and anthropogenic adverse conditions give hope for this weedy variety to survive man-made ecological distress. The domesticated millet variety, however, is presently on the verge of extinction in Japan, as it is being offset by rice. As long as the wild variety persists, it generously maintains an opportunity for us to befriend it again in case the domestic variety gone extinct.

Fallopia Japonica or knotweed is also a usual neighbour of people’s habitats in Japan. This ubiquitous plant is currently referred to as an invasive species in the UK and some areas of the US. The category of ecological invasiveness has become a commonplace notion. For example, the state policy of Japan in regards of biodiversity outlines invasiveness as a new driving factor behind the contemporary ecological crisis. However, invasiveness is a quite confused notion. If invasive species are defined as threatening local diversity by establishing a monoculture in its place, the correspondence to conventional agriculture is surprising notable. Hence, if Japanese knotweed as an introduced invasive species extinguishing English plant communities, than wheat, for example, can be regarded an invasive species introduced from Middle East, which has destroyed the steppe of Russia and Ukraine by means of human and plough.

Just like the status given to the plants depends on the cultural context in which they grow, the concept of invasiveness can’t be objective. In the 1970s in the UK experimental plantations of Japanese knotweed were intentionally established. The idea was to use this highly productive plant for animal fodder and to control erosion. As one can see, the economical gains often decides the ecological status.

In the beginning of the film one sees a plantation of Sugi cedar and Hinoki cypress. These plantations are infamous for their adverse ecological and health related effects. However, their sheer scale, grandeur and monumental presence are astonishing.

There are 62.3 million acres of forest in Japan, covering two-thirds of the country's mountainous land area. Most of the existing forests have been artificially planted, and 44 percent of the reforested area is covered with Sugi cedar. These plantations are extremely ecologically unstable and causing sever hay fever to a grotesque 50% of the Japanese. However, their sheer scale, grandeur and monumental presence are astonishing. Their circumstances of their birth deserve clarification, as it involves at least three wars into a consideration. After massive forest clearings, performed to feed the fires of wartime, reforestation of the barren slopes took economy rather than ecology as its premise. Japanese economic growth commenced with the beginning of Korean war. US military campaign injected much of sought-after USD currency through American Special Procurement programme, which only continued during the Vietnam war. Feeding the fires of economic growth with the steady supply of labour from the countryside has led to a peak demand on the construction timber. Implementing aggressive industrial policies government financed not only the reforestation but further replacement of what they saw as commercially useless natural forests with more economically productive trees. For the most part, this extraordinarily simple-minded experiment of environmental engineering has involved planting a single species, the Japanese cedar, because of the usefulness of its wood and the speed of its growth.

Unfortunately the tempo of economic growth had outpaced the maturation of the trees. With the expansion of industrial economy the demand for wood rose together with its prices. The choice between preserving national wood industry (e.g. hindering industrial growth) or switching to the oversea extractivism was made swiftly. The tariffs on the import of cheaper wood were dropped and the national industry with the declining rate of profit was sacrificed for the industrialization. After liberalizing timber import in 1960, the Japanese wood self-sufficiency rate has consistently decreased from 86.7% to 19.2% in 1999. The Japanese forest industry has been defeated by cheap wood shipped from abroad.

Hence, genealogy of the Sugi forest-plantations has a multiple sense to it. Established in the afterwar years, desired and welcomed during the time of economic growth in the late 1950s and early 1960s, nowadays these forests stand as a multiple apparition: a ghost of old desires and believes in economic prosperity and yet another specter of logged down and consumed primary forests of Phillipines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The photograph placed on the forest floor was made in Sarawak, Borneo. It was taken in a by now logged down primary forest.

***

Nearly all environments, ecological, social and mental, are highly under stress. The actual and the impending massive loss of species and diversity are emotionally and rationally hard to grasp. But not only plants and animals, also soil is under threat. If soil is damaged, in example plowed, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This has the same consequence as the burning of fossil fuels. This process creates a lack of carbon in the soil. Most agricultural land has lost 50% to 70% of its carbon storages according to the soil scientist Rattan Lal. Plants capture carbon in their leaves, pump it down into their root, and exude it into the soil, feeding microorganisms. Carbon rich soil acts like a sponge, absorbing water, and giving it back to the plants when needed. Soil and biodiversity are strongly interconnected. Soil sustains plants, perpetuating the lives of animals and humans. 95% of what we eat needs soil to grow. Besides providing diverse “ecological services”, soil accommodates an innumerable, and basically unmapped, diversity of microorganism. In one hand full of soil, there are more organisms than there are people on earth. Only the vast amount of stars can hold up against such figures. Soil organisms like nematodes, protists, fungi and bacteria are great collaborators. Their multispecies network produces all the nutrition plants require and the lives of animals and humans rely on. Though microorganisms still need complex environments to flourish. Sixty years of industrialized agriculture, the so-called “green revolution” with its constant mechanical and chemical treatments, its use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, have left soil in a very poor condition. It killed many microbial companions.

There are many ways to feed microbes and to storage carbon in the soil. The most popular is called “no-tillage farming”, which involves planting without plowing. A contemporary pioneer of natural farming was the Japanese microbiologist and farmer Masanobu Fukuoka. The Japanese company DGC Technologies tests soil microbial vitality and biodiversity on a commercial scale for local and international farmers who want to improve or advertise their soil condition.

In the film one sees micro test plates, each containing 95 compartments, filled with different kinds of liquid carbon. The plates are used to understand how many microbes inhabit the soil. If microorganisms feed off from the carbon, the liquid becomes colored. The more colors have changed the more different microorganism are present in the soil. The faster the color changes, the higher is the vitality of the microorganisms. Soil was collected from three locations: an urban garden with a diverse range of vegetables, weeds and wild millet; a monoculture plantation of Japanese cedar and Hinoki cypress; and a secondary mixed forest mainly populated with oaks and bamboo grass. The mixed vegetable garden was outstanding, with an average of 1.1 million active bacteria per 1g of soil. The tree plantation showed an average of 0.8 million microorganisms per 1g. The secondary forest showed only 0.6 million microbial inhabitants per 1g. According to Naomi Sakuramoto from the soil lab, the bad result of the secondary forest probably was due to the high presence of oak and bamboo grass, who like to live together, but prevent other species growth. However, one needs to bear in mind that only 1% of the bacteria in soil is measurable, meaning 99% of the billions and more microorganism are not accessible to science.

Microorganisms might suffer from agrochemicals and monocultures, however they can be very resistant. They survive, according to Sakuramoto, for example high radioactivity. They constantly evolve and uptake other species genetic material while still remaining independent entities. Their history is much older and will continue, when human history has ended.

****



Text by Mikhail Lylov and Elke Marhoefer.

Soils-Habit-Plants [2017-18]
in collaboration with Elke Marhoefer

16mm film transferred to digital, color/sound, 12 min., Japan/Germany.




A plant contemplates by contracting the elements from which it originates — light, carbon, and the salts — and it fills itself with colors and odors that in each case qualify its variety, its composition: it is sensation in itself.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy? (1994)

*

How conceivable is this: a plant as an aesthetic machine; an automaton that does not act, only contemplates? Yet, it creates itself in the passivity of being a "sensation in itself." How to read this capacity for passive creation: is it a force, or a power of being affected?

In general we understand force and power as a source of activity. This cognitive habit follows from the traditional politics' conception of force as the power to act over other's action; therefore the deficiency of action is mostly interpreted as a sign of powerlessness. However, one cannot exclude existence of the other side of power — the capacity for being affected. This kind of inactive power equally belongs to those who act and do not act: force is an affect and it is coupled with the power of being affected. The notion of "contemplation" draws our attention to the "otherwise" of force and delivers us to a plant-sense, to a machine-sense as the other-than-human powers. This notion is useful for interrupting the identification between force and action, and allows to put an emphasize on the precedence of the power to be affected.

Film theorist Andre Bazin once wrote: “Photography affects us like a phenomenon in nature, like a flower or a snowflake.” ( “O,” 1:13) Indeed, to liken a plant to photographic image, one has to fashion a contemplative agency — perhaps a contractile soul — which observes the outside and retains its elements in a sensation. In the "Soils-Habit-Plants" the camera and its operators attempt a transformation to become capable of observing minute details of the three vegetative protagonists and their environments. The goal is to discover the plants’ habits and document how they contract themselves with the elements of soil, sun, water and air. Habit introduces duration and rhythm into this process while habitat makes up a space for it and thus renders it visible. In the film such intimate and immediate observation is interrupted by the two reference-images: a historical photograph and results of the soils conditions’ laboratory test. The interstice insists on a narrative and historical dimension of the observed environments.

**

The three plants in the film are typical for landscapes shared between humans and nonhumans. Despite their widespread and ubiquitous status, they can be called “fringe” species. This implies, that they neither belong to “wilderness”, nor to “culture”. They upset easy division of species on “useful” and “useless” and create contradictions in representations of the landscape.

Wild millet is an archetype of the domesticated Japanese barnyard millet. According to a widespread conviction wild millet is a weed, or in other words it is usually present on the patches of human-disturbed land. As an element of cereals (Gramineae) agricultural assemblages, this plant has been accompanying human activities since early times. Often to be found in the neighbourhood of rice, wild millet perhaps originated from an environment, similar to the one from which rice was domesticated. Despite their habitual similarities, wild millet receives exceptionally negative attention from most of the cultivators. While rice is romanticized, wild millet is discriminated and weeded as a pest. However, one might understand wild millet as a disturbance of the rice fields’ monoculture, and thereby as an agent of biodiversity. The presence of wild millet in rice fields reminds that until 1880 its “cultivated” relative was a staple crop in Japan, which gradually disappeared as a victim of modernization and switch to monoculture agriculture.

What is incredible about the plant, is its amazing robustness and adaptability to weeding: during the centuries of cohabitation with rice it developed mimicry to a rice plant, which allowed it to stay unnoticed by the cultivators at the times of hand weeding. Wild millet is not the only example of a plant, that entered into a machinic assemblage of agriculture on its own. Rye and oats are famous for becoming agricultural crops without intended breeding and selection by human agents. This particular assemblage emerged rather due to the will of the weeds to preserve in their environment combined with an unintentional selection by humans. At a certain point a threshold was crossed and what was weeds became rye and oats. When thinking through this example, it is important to dispense with the human and his needs as an imminent term: "domestication" occurred unconsciously and rather due to the striving of rye and oats. Also in the agricultural assemblage, human shall be seen as a kind of reproductive amendment of the plants, captured in the assemblage by the plant species.

Another important point not to be overlooked, is that the becoming-crop does not proceed without becoming-weedy of the agricultural environment. This is the crucial point, which has been absolutely ignored and suppressed by industrial models of agriculture. Instead of looking for what kind of sense various weeds make in the agricultural field, what is their contribution to the resiliency of the environment and which of them can be engaged as an agricultural crop, the bet has been made on the herbicides and total suppression of the weedy "other." However, the agricultural assemblages have their own agential power and continue to evolve. Though, a difference between the older and newer ones remains: hand weeding gave rise to the new crops, while the application of herbicides results in perpetuation of "resistant weeds."

Such is the case with the wild millet, as it has evolved high resistance to chemical herbicides. Going against the logic of agrochemical industry, one shall regard this as a positive development. Robustness and ability to resist natural and anthropogenic adverse conditions give hope for this weedy variety to survive man-made ecological distress. The domesticated millet variety, however, is presently on the verge of extinction in Japan, as it is being offset by rice. As long as the wild variety persists, it generously maintains an opportunity for us to befriend it again in case the domestic variety gone extinct.

Fallopia Japonica or knotweed is also a usual neighbour of people’s habitats in Japan. This ubiquitous plant is currently referred to as an invasive species in the UK and some areas of the US. The category of ecological invasiveness has become a commonplace notion. For example, the state policy of Japan in regards of biodiversity outlines invasiveness as a new driving factor behind the contemporary ecological crisis. However, invasiveness is a quite confused notion. If invasive species are defined as threatening local diversity by establishing a monoculture in its place, the correspondence to conventional agriculture is surprising notable. Hence, if Japanese knotweed as an introduced invasive species extinguishing English plant communities, than wheat, for example, can be regarded an invasive species introduced from Middle East, which has destroyed the steppe of Russia and Ukraine by means of human and plough.

Just like the status given to the plants depends on the cultural context in which they grow, the concept of invasiveness can’t be objective. In the 1970s in the UK experimental plantations of Japanese knotweed were intentionally established. The idea was to use this highly productive plant for animal fodder and to control erosion. As one can see, the economical gains often decides the ecological status.

In the beginning of the film one sees a plantation of Sugi cedar and Hinoki cypress. These plantations are infamous for their adverse ecological and health related effects. However, their sheer scale, grandeur and monumental presence are astonishing.

There are 62.3 million acres of forest in Japan, covering two-thirds of the country's mountainous land area. Most of the existing forests have been artificially planted, and 44 percent of the reforested area is covered with Sugi cedar. These plantations are extremely ecologically unstable and causing sever hay fever to a grotesque 50% of the Japanese. However, their sheer scale, grandeur and monumental presence are astonishing. Their circumstances of their birth deserve clarification, as it involves at least three wars into a consideration. After massive forest clearings, performed to feed the fires of wartime, reforestation of the barren slopes took economy rather than ecology as its premise. Japanese economic growth commenced with the beginning of Korean war. US military campaign injected much of sought-after USD currency through American Special Procurement programme, which only continued during the Vietnam war. Feeding the fires of economic growth with the steady supply of labour from the countryside has led to a peak demand on the construction timber. Implementing aggressive industrial policies government financed not only the reforestation but further replacement of what they saw as commercially useless natural forests with more economically productive trees. For the most part, this extraordinarily simple-minded experiment of environmental engineering has involved planting a single species, the Japanese cedar, because of the usefulness of its wood and the speed of its growth.

Unfortunately the tempo of economic growth had outpaced the maturation of the trees. With the expansion of industrial economy the demand for wood rose together with its prices. The choice between preserving national wood industry (e.g. hindering industrial growth) or switching to the oversea extractivism was made swiftly. The tariffs on the import of cheaper wood were dropped and the national industry with the declining rate of profit was sacrificed for the industrialization. After liberalizing timber import in 1960, the Japanese wood self-sufficiency rate has consistently decreased from 86.7% to 19.2% in 1999. The Japanese forest industry has been defeated by cheap wood shipped from abroad.

Hence, genealogy of the Sugi forest-plantations has a multiple sense to it. Established in the afterwar years, desired and welcomed during the time of economic growth in the late 1950s and early 1960s, nowadays these forests stand as a multiple apparition: a ghost of old desires and believes in economic prosperity and yet another specter of logged down and consumed primary forests of Phillipines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The photograph placed on the forest floor was made in Sarawak, Borneo. It was taken in a by now logged down primary forest.

***

Nearly all environments, ecological, social and mental, are highly under stress. The actual and the impending massive loss of species and diversity are emotionally and rationally hard to grasp. But not only plants and animals, also soil is under threat. If soil is damaged, in example plowed, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This has the same consequence as the burning of fossil fuels. This process creates a lack of carbon in the soil. Most agricultural land has lost 50% to 70% of its carbon storages according to the soil scientist Rattan Lal. Plants capture carbon in their leaves, pump it down into their root, and exude it into the soil, feeding microorganisms. Carbon rich soil acts like a sponge, absorbing water, and giving it back to the plants when needed. Soil and biodiversity are strongly interconnected. Soil sustains plants, perpetuating the lives of animals and humans. 95% of what we eat needs soil to grow. Besides providing diverse “ecological services”, soil accommodates an innumerable, and basically unmapped, diversity of microorganism. In one hand full of soil, there are more organisms than there are people on earth. Only the vast amount of stars can hold up against such figures. Soil organisms like nematodes, protists, fungi and bacteria are great collaborators. Their multispecies network produces all the nutrition plants require and the lives of animals and humans rely on. Though microorganisms still need complex environments to flourish. Sixty years of industrialized agriculture, the so-called “green revolution” with its constant mechanical and chemical treatments, its use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, have left soil in a very poor condition. It killed many microbial companions.

There are many ways to feed microbes and to storage carbon in the soil. The most popular is called “no-tillage farming”, which involves planting without plowing. A contemporary pioneer of natural farming was the Japanese microbiologist and farmer Masanobu Fukuoka. The Japanese company DGC Technologies tests soil microbial vitality and biodiversity on a commercial scale for local and international farmers who want to improve or advertise their soil condition.

In the film one sees micro test plates, each containing 95 compartments, filled with different kinds of liquid carbon. The plates are used to understand how many microbes inhabit the soil. If microorganisms feed off from the carbon, the liquid becomes colored. The more colors have changed the more different microorganism are present in the soil. The faster the color changes, the higher is the vitality of the microorganisms. Soil was collected from three locations: an urban garden with a diverse range of vegetables, weeds and wild millet; a monoculture plantation of Japanese cedar and Hinoki cypress; and a secondary mixed forest mainly populated with oaks and bamboo grass. The mixed vegetable garden was outstanding, with an average of 1.1 million active bacteria per 1g of soil. The tree plantation showed an average of 0.8 million microorganisms per 1g. The secondary forest showed only 0.6 million microbial inhabitants per 1g. According to Naomi Sakuramoto from the soil lab, the bad result of the secondary forest probably was due to the high presence of oak and bamboo grass, who like to live together, but prevent other species growth. However, one needs to bear in mind that only 1% of the bacteria in soil is measurable, meaning 99% of the billions and more microorganism are not accessible to science.

Microorganisms might suffer from agrochemicals and monocultures, however they can be very resistant. They survive, according to Sakuramoto, for example high radioactivity. They constantly evolve and uptake other species genetic material while still remaining independent entities. Their history is much older and will continue, when human history has ended.

****



Text by Mikhail Lylov and Elke Marhoefer.