Written by Cyrine Ghrissi. Published on 29 September 2022.
Photos: Férielle Doulain Zouari.
Photos: Férielle Doulain Zouari.
Promising for the future of humanity, the aboriginal relationship between humans and nature is experiencing a rebirth. Ever since humankind has existed on earth, they have been using plants that grow around them for different purposes: food, play, medicine, furniture, and textiles. Coevolving with native plants, human beings have been interacting, discovering, and experimenting. This interaction with the flora species has generated different stories that have been transmitted to different generations. Documenting those captivating stories in relation to wild plants, by locals that have been hearing from their ancestors and imparting to the next generation, the Franco – Tunisian artist Férielle Doulain Zouari’s artistic research focuses on archiving the subjective relationship that exists between humans and their environment.
In a beautiful landscape 20 kilometers far from Kef, a region located in north-western Tunisia, Férielle Doulain Zouari has moved her art studio to Mahassan village, to hear the personal stories from the inhabitants of the region and to experiment with the wild plants that are famously known in that region. The idea started when Férielle, whose mother and husband originated from different villages of the Kef region, spotted an abandoned field that was apparently not cultivated for 6 years. Farmers didn’t exploit it to grow wheat or barley since they couldn’t afford to buy the needed pesticides to prevent cultivation from bugs and other diseases. Working on that forgotten yield, Férielle with the help of farmworkers has planted natural seeds with no artificial interaction. Seeing the growth of the plants and the conversations between farm workers as it has been so long not seeing the development of such plants. An interest triggered the visual artists to know more.
” The Resistants” is a subjective history of nature” installation questions the co-existence between humans and plants in a contemporary era as it plays both a challenge and opportunity for a possible future. In collaboration with a female biology engineer her research focuses on “How we can use wild plants to better grow crops from monocultures”. Out of 20 Tunisian existing wild plants, she chose to work on 7 wild plants as mediums for her artistic research, Bok “Silybum marianum”, Kaz “RHAPONTICUM ACAULE”, Tifaf “Sonchus”, Lseen thor “Anchusa”, El Khochkhach “Poppy”, Khobiza “ Malva Sylvestris”, grin j’dey “Hypecoum imberbe”.
In a green open village, close to the farmworkers who mainly work mainly on harvesting and cultivating wheat and barley spaces and seeds, a conversation was launched between the non-owners farmers. Digging into wild plant history, registering the funny, inspiring, and stimulating anecdotes, taking notes of locals’ statements, and listening to the different generation tales, Férielle wants to highlight the different inhabitant testimonies with nature in a new way of repertoire and archiving each wild plant. Giving each wild plant its own inspiring subjective history, the artist evokes the relationship between humans to their environment, leading to untold discourse and intangible realities.
Based on the collected testimonies that have created new debates and triggered new discussions between the inhabitants, Férielle’s artistic experiment focuses on wild plants as art materials. Keeping wild plants alive without uprooting them, “ The resistants” / “A subjective history of nature” art experiment installation is inspired by Kokedama “moss ball”, a Japanese plant art that allows the plant to survive without a pot and grow in a specific direction. The centuries-old Japanese practice was recreated by the artist, both to preserve the plant as a living species and to embody the stories. Carefully handcrafted hanging moss balls, the plant ephemerally stands and is surrounded by other industrial materials. The “sculpture stories” make us rethink the coexistence between living materials and industrial materials.
The installation of a living wild plant in another pot that we can put in our domestic garden. We request the role of an artist within a society, does the work of the artist have to stop within the white cube or it goes beyond the exhibition space? What is the impact of the artwork? Does the artwork need only to raise the audience’s awareness about a particular subject like the Environment or does it go beyond that?
Within every new spring, plants grow new leaves and flowers bloom: a new generation is born, stories materialize, old tales may disappear, along with the storyteller, thus new novels recreate leading to a lost narrative, triggering nostalgia to the inhabitants and the feeling of the melancholy of the peerless stories. Archiving the collective memory and highlighting wild plants as an art object, The “sculpture-stories” addresses the audience to revive their memories, rethink their actions toward preserving wild plants and their relation to the non-human nature that has been imparted through generations and used for their ancestors’ benefits.
Although there is a collective agreement of the memory that each one holds with a different plant, the sorrowful feeling as if something has gone forever with the mention of the different functions inter era in medicine, textile, and food, the region inhabitants are not investing or working to preserve those plants as it is a good sustainable substitute for the land comparing to the pesticides that are harming the soil and hazardous to their own health.
Regarding this paradox, Férielle sees the relationship between human and non-human nature as complex and distorted in today’s era, due to a mass of fragments of seen and unseen elements including knowledge, economics, and politics.
With the decrease of wild plants in the region and the emergence of other environmental issues including water scarcity, degraded soil, and the decrease in farmland, “The Resistants” installations invite the audiences (mainly the locals) to rethink wild plants as a good asset for the land. Indeed their roots help to feed and cultivate the soil, creating carbons that will feed other plants like beans, lentils, and sorgho. With regards to on-ground benefits, wild plants attract a certain type of mite which is a beneficial decomposer for plant nutrition. “Finally, we are talking about a very small local scale but it is an image of universal problems everywhere. The more we go locally, the more I want to take things that are subjective, very specific to the inhabitants, the more they talk about universal things.”
While contemporary humankind continues to move away from nature, Férielle Doulain Zouari works to invite audiences to discover the beautiful landscapes in Kef, far from the busy capital. “The Resistants” by Férielle Doulain Zouar addresses Mahassen locals and the inhabitants of the Kef region to rethink, launch new debates, and question wild plants’ function in their collective memory, human-plant coexistence in an industrial era and how we can cohabit to promote a sustainable habitat and live together. “ We have to work as a team, the land goes from father to son, it’s very important to talk, it’s a shock but we need to talk with these visions”. Férielle Doulain Zouari adds.