What is a Weed? / Digital Project

Io Makandal and Eve Tagny | What is a Weed?
Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal.
01.02.21 – 16.05.21



Launched in 2012 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection, the SIGHTINGS satellite exhibition program was conceived as an experimental platform to critically reflect upon the possibilities and limitations of the modernist “white cube.” As part of this program, artists and curators are invited to develop projects for a cubic display unit located in a public space at the university, with the aim of generating new strategies for art dissemination.

The 2020-2021 SIGHTINGS programming takes place outside the limits of Concordia’s Hall Building to unfold online in response to the stakes of the cube, itself reformatted as an open and virtual site. The cycle of projects will work with the notion of measures—as a means of negotiation, calculation and representation of slippery in-between zones. Measures are commonly referred to as abstracted indicators or as a set of regulatory actions and procedures designed and implemented to manage, prevent or redress a situation: over time, new measures become default standard practices. The current edition of SIGHTINGS contemplates measures as a way to interpret and confront the subtle and not so subtle agents that indistinctly permeate beings, spaces, and things, invisibly link them and regulate their relations; those determinants of distance and proximity, access and isolation.

The SIGHTINGS program is developed by Julia Eilers Smith.

SIGHTINGS 31 - Io Makandal and Eve Tagny
February 1 – May 16, 2021

A collaborative online project co-created by Eve Tagny and Io Makandal

“What is a weed?
Oh, what is a weed?”– Julian Bannerman, Great Gardens: Trematon Castle

A weed
is defined as a plant growing freely where it’s not wanted. Therefore, its characterization is purely based on human notions of desirability in a given context, rather than on any other of its properties.

Vegetal practices such as landscaping and gardening have a long history of control and conditioning of nature — the desire to tame it in accordance with human’s use of space — “weeding” out undesirable plants is a part of these practices. What potential then lies in relinquishing control to these undesirables? Is this ground for a rewilding revolution, a quiet resistance or an unrealistic utopia?

A weed,
an undervalued plant, a displaced plant, yet, a plant that not only grows but thrives in disturbed areas and its soil, holding ground together with others, their strong roots acting as little healers of the wounds of depleted earth.

When allowed to survive within the urban environment, weeds claim their occupation in the liminal, in between, left-over spaces — the “Tiers Paysage” (Third Landscape) as defined by gardener and author Gilles Clément.

known for their vigorous, at times aggressive growth, populate these new territories of nature, providing grounds for thinking about adaptability and resilience on contested lands.

Through a cross-continental, collaborative methodology, What is a weed? attempts to map out a plant-centric third landscape, letting weeds act as a guide through reflections and investigations that touch on questions of desirability, patterns of migration, botanical colonialism, ruptures between body and nature, and the tensions between organic and synthetic environments.

Io Makandal is an interdisciplinary artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Working primarily with drawing, photography, organic matter and installation, her practice is concerned with feminist and environmental embodiments of process, entropy, the binary between nature and artifice, living and dying, urban ecology and hybrid environments during a time of environmental shift.

Eve Tagny is a Tiohtià:ke/Montreal-based artist. Her practice focuses on the correlations between the bereavement process and nature’s rhythms, cycles, forms and materials, which serve as the ultimate guides for renewal. Navigating between writing, photography, video and installation, her work explores the various pathways of resiliency adopted by culturally hybrid communities in order to free themselves of colonial and patriarchal heritages and formulate sustainable futurities.

We would like to thank Alex Nawotka and Carms Ng for the web development of this project, Charlotte Dion for providing first phase assistance, as well as Julia Eilers Smith and the team at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery.

As artists leading this project animated by interrogations about nature – landscape – environment, we want to acknowledge that we are doing so while being located on colonised indigenous lands.

As we aim to reconsider and challenge inherited Western imperialistic perceptions of and relationships with nature, we recognize that we benefit from settler privilege. The amount of security provided by this allows us to take steps such as this one, towards unlearning mechanisms and approaches detrimental to sustainable and egalitarian futures.
Io Makandal copyright 2023