On growth of Istrian Garlic and Wet plate emporium process
A special garlic planted by me, a simple human, grows. It wasn't supposed to grow because it is only supposed to grow in Croatia, where it originates from. It grew and it grew without a light frequency reaching its root. A light sensitive chemical, usually used in cyanotype processes, applied to glass, caught the light, it gained a special shade of blue. This chemical isn't supposed to stick to the glass. With a little help from gelatine, it captured the filtered light. The story takes place in a box. This box can be viewed both metaphorically and literally. The box is a human intervention in the organic space, it disrupts the natural order but on the other hand it provides life.
This is place that tracks time, every day and every night, it tracks the concept of time as well as simple process of growth. Its characters can be seen as metaphorically and as literally as their environment. The story gives space for dialogue between the three. The garlic, the light and a human. Light, a holder of agency that escapes our intentions for it to be held. Human, individual who has lost connection to the larger ecological environment-the one who uses own body as the memory bank of that connection.
Garlic, a representative of both sides, human and light. A deeply subjugated subject placed into an artificial environment. Fascination with garlic goes back to the kitchen. I wanted to know, what else than the strong odour, a significant taste, does this plant contain, why am I making it a part of almost every dish. For me garlic holds power, it holds power over all of us because we are creatures of pleasure. Working with garlic has taught me a lot of things about care. About how simple the act of planting is, how easy it is to give life, to continue life.
I wanted to understand the small being, to understand how to treat it, how to provide it with conditions it requires. I held and still hold so much power over it. However, its life cycle is what holds power over me.
A small heads up, a note to whoever got this far. I aim to treat this text in the same manner as I treat my garlic; filtered, structured, charged with the personality of experiencing time, charged with emotion and presence. Skin, clove, stem and root of the garlic are the structures I wish this text will mould into, with significant odour peaking trough the written pages. Therefore, this topic and these written pages have been taken care of, watered, freshly trimmed and repotted. They are a documentation of thinking and understanding, the process, the personal position of a human being, organic and inorganic at the same time. This text is a box that tracks time, time of unravelling. I hope you will dare to take the skin off, I sure took mine several times.
The perception of the world around us is heavily influenced by our senses and abilities to recognise them. Each sensation is an open door for the new story to unravel, new life. But we created a world so sterile, so senseless.
We move trough the space in obtained rhythms in obtained forms, we are planted in our reality in a box where conditions are created to stimulate our growth. Where did the unexpected go, who is in charge of it? Can we be the ones in charge, can we change the box?
For a long time we have subjugated those around us, organisms, phenomena, laws. The topic of light, now by human intervention, light is dethroned from its natural status and became a controlled variable, under scientific calculations. Light is as crucial to us humans as it is to plants and other living beings. Photosynthesis is a well known process introduced to us trough studies of biology and chemistry. This process sustains complex life on earth, it sustains our kind amongst other organisms by its final compound taking form of precious, breathable oxygen. Light which is the main agent in reaction, the main stimuli, is the one who dictates outcomes and holds every single one of us in its hands. Therefore, I am asking myself constantly, can we change the notion of light, can we change its behaviour and still maintain the life. But, haven’t we done this already in designing artificial spaces? We are constantly finding ways to redefine and reinvent our environments in order to create spaces where accessibility, durability, productivity are embraced. Our spaces are not simple, they carry a significant social and political background. Our spaces reflect systematic values and propose a narrowed sphere of possibilities to create our lives . Moulding environment in this way has forced us to change the natural occurrences in the ways that bring the most benefit out of our systematic existence . We are constantly practicing power over them. On the other hand, we are fragile to the lack of them. This speaks about fragility of our society and its urge to distance from nature. Our sterile surroundings have lost the meaning of importance, creating more systems that impose value over exceptions.
The garlic, under EU protection is synthesized by human. We have a connection. Both subjects of nature, light and garlic, have been synthesized by human and “migrated” from one meaning into another. Therefore, I wonder, how can we learn from the ones we subjugated in order to create spaces that are more sensitive, spaces that impose observation, care and allowance. Authenticity is imposed upon certain species trough categorisation as our behaviour infringed the natural flow. We aim to protect what we once disturbed, to give it space for growth. We create environments, protect areas, give instructions. But how is it authentic? How can we become less contradictory?
Our lack of perception towards the surrounding environment is rooted in our inability to understand it. This lack of understanding simply comes from the lack of representation of the voiceless ones. Their notions are almost invisible to the fast human eye.
Garlic has been around for quite some time and is amongst the oldest known horticultural crops.This small plant is naturally originating from Central Asia with its appearance dating back to 5000 years ago, where Egyptian and Indian cultures referred to its ways of planting and consumption. Our perception of plants and their ability to perceive the world around them has changed rapidly trough history. Aristotle's dogma that plants have souls but no sensation lasted through the Middle Ages and into the eighteenth century, when Carl von Linné, grandfather of modem botany, declared that plants differ from animals and humans only in their lack of movement, a conceit which was shot down by the great nineteenth-century botanist Charles Darwin, who proved that every tendril has its power of independent movement. As Darwin put it, plants "acquire and display this power only when it is of some advantage to them.”The lack of movement can hypothetically be seen as inability to take power over one’s existence. Due to garlics asexual propagation, relatively small numbers of garlic clones, perhaps numbering only a few thousand, have been in the hands of growers around the world through most of history. Trough method of fingerprinting crops, a method used to determine new genetical varieties of the organism, we are able to understand how the plant has been migrated over lands, overseas. This might sound insignificant, but it offers understanding into how humans have migrated in the space and time, offering understanding of our own history and its values. We have been in charge for moving those whose movement we are unable to perceive, but they accommodate to the surroundings shifted by us. This is an immerse quality, a quality human society may not contain.
Sharing my origins with the Red Istrian Garlic is a privilege, of sort. Istrian red garlic from the outside does not look red, but the strong dark red color of its cherries can be clearly seen through the white outer shell. This variation of garlic plant is heavily present in Istrian vegetable culture as an indigenous species in this specific region of Croatia and is mainly grown on small farms. Now, tradition as well as traditional cusine hold a significant role in Croatian culture. Maintaining tradition and engaging with it is crucial not only as a way to feel connected to our roots and learn from the old. Tradition and authenticity offer the culture a possibility to flourish in the main industrial sector, tourism. In this sense, it is not simply about nourishing what the land we inhabited and knowledge we acquired from it. The authenticity and traditionally becomes a currency.
The Association of Producers of Istrian Garlic was officially founded in Pazin, capital of Istrian region, on February 17, 2018. The initiative to form an association of garlic producers was quick to come to fruition, and its members are now looking to launch an official procedure for the Istrian garlic to be granted the Protected designation of origin or the Protected geographical indication status by the EU. Protected designation of origin (PDO) identifies products that are produced, processed and prepared in a specific geographical area, using the recognised know-how of local producers and ingredients from the region concerned.
Every part of the production, processing and preparation process must take place in the specific region. Protected geographical indication (PGI) is, however, less strict. PGI emphasises the relationship between the specific geographic region and the name of the product, where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. Furthermore, PGI verifies these products even if only one stage of the production is taking place in the place of the region. This methods are used in order to confirm authenticity of product and protect production areas, economic value as well as its consumers. To make it easier to understand, I will try to explain what would this means in the context of the red garlic growing in my box on the tiny balcony amongst heavy rains of Netherlands.
I have been given a 2 cloves of Red Istrian Garlic on 1st of October 2021. This cloves came carefully wrapped in the suitcase of my mother who has spent weeks tracking down local garlic farmers from the region. From the moment I have planted this garlic, it stopped being Red Istrian Garlic. If I wanted it to be protected and found in PDO system, to hold the same economical value, it would mean that I would have to go to Croatia myself, plant it there in traditional way, under typical weather and environment conditions. It would mean that I would need to follow a “manual” of care that has been created by its preexisting harvesters. My journey of planting and growing has started with questioning whether a plant this specific can grow in an environment far from its usual and in case it does, how well can it mature, can it still hold its original proprieties. What can be considered its original proprieties after all? Twelve crops have developed in the period from October till January. They have yet to mature fully from single cloves to bulbs, a process that will further continue taking place in the spring time. However, the success of my initial plan has proved my starting point. We are unable to control life, we are unable to create a “protected” type of life or disable life in case it is not following our standards, our systems. Nature will nurture when given space and time, it will nurture in its most organic ways.
My approach towards this project has been rather different from the usual. The dialogical importance has directed the view upon specified subjects as co-creators of the work. I desired to provide them with tools of shaping the work in the way they are able to, to treat them as equals in the process. The methodology slowly embodied shape of growing, allowing the process of creating to become the subject matter of the work. I did not only become a maker, but a provider of tools for the voices to be heard.
. Istrian Garlic. January 2022, The Hague Process photographs.
Taken in the proces of fixating light sensitive gelatine emulsion onto glass plates.
In the current we are facing the shortage of land required for production of food. Large natural environments are harvested, artificial production is encouraged trough introduction of greenhouses, indoor vertical farms, experiments with growth are a common in laboratories. This heavily controlled environments prioritise design and maintenance with desire to bring the most quantity and quality out to the world. Artificial characteristics of these spaces however find their roots in nature, because to produce a piece of nature we need to understand how it has been sustaining itself on its own. Sounds familiar, no? Temperature, air, nutrient solution, humidity, carbon dioxide, light, just a few variables we needed understand in order to replicate and control. This specifically has nurtured the design of the Growbox.
Three separated compartments, each containing four garlic cloves started as a base. The aluminium sides hold the ground, the crops, the water, while being contained in an outer frame whose sole purpose is protection of the crops from uncontrolled conditions. The back and the sides of the frame are left open, allowing the air to circulate, while the front slightly differs. On the front, the knobs are installed as a way to carry the weight of different coloured gels, usually used amongst photographers, to achieve coloured lightning. By filtrating natural lightning, very grey if we speak about The Netherlands, these filters allow each of the three compartments to become landscapes of light and its frequencies.
The Growbox is not anymore only the home of garlic, it is a home of filtrated light.
First there was darkness, and then there was light, something like that. We are surrounded by it constantly, there is no escape, there is never pitch black. We rarely pay attention unless there is a lack of it, we rarely give it a second taught. Firstly, let's define light. Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is perceived by the human eye. Perhaps the most important characteristic of visible light is colour. To come straight to the point, difference in frequency of visible light equals difference in energy light at the certain point in the spectrum contains, therefore, red, blue, green, yellow, purple, orange emerge. Without disregarding other proprieties, colour is as crucial for us humans as it is for plants. It can drastically affect the state of our emotional and physical wellbeing. Its time and space matter. We for sure have this in mind whilst creating our own. Certain studies have shown how certain light frequencies can benefit the growth of plant and therefore the knowledge has been applied unmistakably in our artificial growing environments.
Blue affecting the early, fragile root, red strengthening the leaves, violet enhancing admirable colour and taste while yellow and green are making sure that enough chlorophyll is there. I just wondered, what would happen is one was not there, what would happen if one of my garlics grew without the blue, the violet. Would the bulb still attract me as the one I originally planted? Therefore, Growbox has the power to eliminate certain frequencies trough attaching the different colour gels to different segments in its design. It has the power to create a difference between those who originated from the same. Maybe it will happen, but we will know only if we are patient enough to water till the spring.
However, what we perceive with our human eye is just a small part of the far reaching spectrum and its proprieties. In physics, the term "light" may refer more broadly to electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength, whether visible or not. Our culture is rather visual, primarily visual. Since the beginning of communities, drawings, paintings, symbols have been used in order to transfer information, to captivate the message. With larger understanding of laws of nature, we were able to create and develop further, giving birth to photography. Photography can therefore be seen as a medium representative of this hybrid aspect.
A piece of science that produces art.
I desired to understand photography in its core, to understand what makes it possible to create the image, that being, light. Now, to photograph light is not as easy as it may sound, to give it voice is even harder. The fragility of light and the inability to preserve it, fixate it, has directed me further towards old techniques of wet plate emporium, cyanotype on glass to make it more understandable. We go back to light spectrums. Cyanotype is a photographic printing process using chemicals which, when exposed to UV light, produce cyan-blue prints due to photosensitivity of the solution. The organic surface is necessary for absorption of solution, and glass certainly isn’t one. Glass and its transparency, fragility, origin, requested dialogue with me. In order to produce cyanotypes on glass, the sensitive solution had to be mixed with gelatine, a controlled compound derived from nature. The process became a growth, a learning path speaking of my persistence to bring together organic and inorganic, speaking of human persistence of invading the environment and its organic state. Glass plates became a voice of light, an ability to capture it in the core of what it actually is, unrepresented by anything but the shade of blue it has created. These glass plates became a way to track time, to document the change in the Growbox environment, the natural change as well as the change that was firstly forced upon trough filtering the coming rays of sunlight.
Artificial space I have created became a frame of reference, it allowed me to understand and recognise the notions of subjugation in our own, everyday environments. Life is possible under artificial conditions, under conditions that are both in and out of our control. The questions about the authenticity of the grown garlic crop arise as it is surely not grown accordingly to EU standards and in that sense originally authentic plant cannot be granted its status. It opens questions about control. We are working for it and agains it, but maybe all that is left to realise is that we are figures of a structure so large that it leaves us motionless. However, our roots, leaves and stems can grow, we can blossom, all that is required is to remind ourselves that edges of the glass frames are not final points. This work speaks about time, preservation, isolation and sensibility. It speaks about my need, human need to materialise, to fixate. I was growing the process in order to learn. Each part became a stepping stone towards the end, towards maintenance and documentation. It is my connection to the process, a dialogue with the small ones, it is me changing between the roles of a maker and a subject. It is the power play, of rules, boxes, of expectations. It is about stoping the transition, giving the audience the ability to continue the process. It is experiencing the body as power of action and reaction.
The process is never ending.
Documentation. Print. Publication.