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Installation
2024, wood, bones, copper
Heracles of Hogweed, film, 4K, 18min.
Research film about an immigrant plant









































The film examines the complexities of human interaction with Giant Hogweed, an invasive plant originating from the Caucasus. Challenging the traditional perspective on migrating plants and the narrow human approach to these organisms, the film traces the plant’s migration from Central Asia to Europe and the Americas. It explores the fear instilled by media portrayal and artist’s own spiritual connection with the plant. Emphasizing a non-human perspective, the film raises important questions about our relationship with the natural world. 


Heracleum Mantegazzianum —commonly known as Giant Hogweed— is a large, imposing exotic and yet controversial plant that often elicits negative or even hostile reactions. It is a so-called invasive species, whose photoactive substance contained in the sap causes severe skin burns and possible blindness. Typically it grows to heights of 6 to 16 feet. Because of its impressive size, Giant Hogweed was brought to Europe and North America as an ornamental plant and garden curiosity.


History

Native to the western Caucasus region of Eurasia, it was introduced to Europe by colonial British botanists as an ornamental exotic plant. Historical records document its introduction to Europe in 1817 at the Kew Botanical Gardens in London. The former center of the British colonial empire, in its efforts to control and acquire crops from remote areas, facilitated dissemination of Giant Hogweed into Europe and subsequently to other continents. It soon became evident that this plant could easily escape cultivation and control, spreading rapidly into natural areas where it began to pose significant ecological threats. In its non-native environments, Giant Hogweed became an aggressive species, outcompeting native flora and displaying considerable resilience across diverse habitats.
Giant Hogweed was initially welcomed into castle gardens and later into the backyards of townsfolk, admired as a magnificent plant. This earlier human-plant relationship changed over time from praise into fear as the plant trespassed manicured gardens, escaped control, and became wild. Nowadays, Giant Hogweed flourishes in transient, anonymous spaces such as surroundings of highways or factories, or on the margins of private lands. These abandoned areas, often remnants of industrialization and urban sprawl, symbolize the unintended byproducts of human neglect. Resilient Giant Hogweed reclaims these forsaken spaces, turning them into ecological frontiers.


Eradication campaign

Current European law mandates the complete eradication of Giant Hogweed. The goal is to eliminate this plant from most areas of the European Union by 2030 and to have none by 2050. While some botanists criticize this as a genocidal scenario, others would participate in this purge. Questions arise about why the Hogweed cannot remain in certain areas considering its benefits to insects or wildlife. If wildlife were allowed to graze on the plant, this could naturally control its spread. Some locals who have coexisted with the plant for nearly 50 years believe in a long-term,
sustainable relationship without attempting total eradication. However, this perspective isn't acknowledged by legislative bodies, which decide the plant's fate. In the Czech Republic, the labor involved in the eradication of Giant Hogweed tells a story of discrimination and exploitation. Companies and private landlords delegate the work to socially disadvantaged individuals, exposing them to further vulnerability. In fact, the many agencies involved in the eradication project are required by the government to employ people from job centers, often from the Romani community. The commonly-held bias that these employees lack knowledge of the landscape and are unable to navigate maps or recognize rare plants which may be inadvertently destroyed has partly fueled the ethnic conflict in the border regions.


Plant-human narratives

Giant Hogweed has absorbed varied socio-political perspectives through the centuries. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, an interesting phenomenon emerged in Czechoslovakia: the bloated military, a leftover from the Communist era, found a new purpose in suppressing a novel, non-ideological and virtually defenseless enemy. Army transporters were deployed to destroy the immense and numerous fields of Giant Hogweed that were spreading widely, reaching into the cities. In 1991, news outlets reported many incidents of children getting burns by playing with the plant. The plant’s name in Czech, Bolševník, was often changed by countrymen to Bolshevik, bearing the unpleasant metaphor of a painful past, spreading as fast as the detested former Communist regime. Another, very different and older narrative about Giant Hogweed exists in the Sudetenland, an area of former Czechoslovakia with a history of displacement and conflict. For centuries, the German-speaking nations tried to colonize the territory by sending in German settlers and displacing the Czech population. In this region, in the 19th century, Prince Klemens von Metternich, an Austrian noble, driven by a quest for beautification of the area, sowed the seeds of this ornamental exotic plant. Giant Hogweed’s menacing spread from that region across the whole Czech countryside, seemed to some like a phantasmagorical echo of those displaced populations. Nowadays, many people living in the Sudetenland see in Giant Hogweed an environmental symbol of the complex and often painful human history of the region, a ghostly and growing reminder of that tumultuous past.