Working with weeds
By Trajna Collective
Symbiocene is a nomadic platform set up by our interdisciplinary collective, Trajna. Symbiocene questions our design sensibilities and produces work and experiments that function outside the anthropocentric production of everyday realities. Continuously evolving, it aims to explore the potentials of interspecies collaboration and look for ways to encourage symbiotic relationships. We believe that the ongoing extinction of different life forms obliges us to resuscitate synergic relationships between living beings. The project’s main goal is thus to design resilient cityscapes by exploring the dynamics of interspecies existence within urban landscapes.
Many polluted and degraded ecosystems have become thriving homes for invasive plants. As a consequence of global trade and traffic, these displaced species alter newly conquered ecosystems and threaten our biodiversity. They forcefully remind us of the necessity to question our anthropocentric perspectives on economies, habitation and land. Symbiocene utilises the material and symbolic qualities of these species to initiate land restoration, ethical economies and spaces for multispecies learning, thereby showcasing ways to transform competitive relations into symbiotic ones.
One of our most promising projects is NotWeed, a paper product made from invasive plants. According to the Food and Agriculture organisation of the United Nations (FAO), global tree plantations have expanded by more than 50 percent in the past 30 years. In order to protect planetary biodiversity, we need to find sustainable alternatives to standardised processes of paper pulp production. Together with volunteers in Ljubljana we have been foraging thriving weeds from urban wastelands and using them as an alternative source of cellulose in half-industrial paper production. Our locally produced, chlorine-free paper gives us and our paper users an opportunity to join the efforts of preserving natural resources and to become part of an inventive solution to the issue of invasive plants.
Another project concerning the creation of community spaces for learning, experimentation and making is called Embodied Knowledge Shelters. We recognise the importance of collective action when tackling the problems of the anthropocene and so decided to activate public spaces and mobilise cultural institutions to facilitate education about local ecosystems and their resilience in relation to global environmental change. We host workshops, lectures and other community gatherings, learning how and with whom to cooperate and build a diverse web of life in our future cities. At one of these events we used scrap wood from a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) to transform an exhibition space into a temporary working studio, which became a venue for our design work, weekly meetings, lectures, workshops and presentations on beekeeping practices. The studio was fitted with furniture elements we made from the biomass of invasive plants. At the end of the exhibition, the furniture pieces were auctioned off, funding the development and continuation of the project.
A third project, Groundworks, involved landscape restoration. In one of Ljubljana’s city parks we are actively removing invasive Tree of Heaven biomass, organising reading sessions there, and investigating uses for the collected biomass. Currently we are looking for ways to use it as a substrate for growing edible mushrooms.
By employing permaculture principles, scientific research, participatory methods and creative skills, we are looking at transforming damaged ecosystems into playgrounds of diverse human and extra-human economies. ■