- Sabrina Maltese
To clear the ground of weeds is a group exhibition that interweaves artworks by Abbas Akhavan, Mona Hatoum, and Beatriz Santiago Muñoz to focus on the complicated relations between plants and their environments. Through sculpture and film, these artworks engage plants as subjects in themselves and as markers to address histories of occupation and enclosure, problematizing the line between what is endemic and what is alien. To clear the ground of weeds considers the political dimensions of uprootedness by exploring the circulation of seeds and flora specimens, the entanglements of indigenous and introduced plant species, and the ways in which vegetation has been used to claim space.
In Untitled Garden (2008–) Abbas Akhavan introduces a fence of dense and fragrant cedar trees into the space of the museum. Creating an impassable enclosure, this towering hedge is a provocation; those who enter must negotiate their positions as guests or potential intruders. Set in a former U.S. military base in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s film Ojos para mis enemigos Eyes for my enemies observes the entanglements of vegetation and animal life that are energetically reclaiming this purportedly closed-off and highly controlled site. Images of botanical life are interlaced with scenes that follow a local activist and Santería practitioner, Pedro Ortiz Pedraza as he wanders the base and collects flowers for spiritual offerings. Mona Hatoum’s small portrait-format mirror You Are Still Here (1994) reflects its context by creating a succession of fragmentary representations—it may reflect the plant life of the artworks around it, or the face of the onlooker. Engraved with the words of its title, the work addresses the viewer, trapping them in relation to the surrounding vegetation, and announcing their implication in these passages across terrains. Enveloped in greenery, and supported by Santiago Muñoz’s cacophonous film soundtrack of bird calls, chirping insects, and rustling leaves, To clear the ground of weeds mimics the sensations of being enclosed by the botanical world.