Uriel Orlow lives and works in Lisbon, PT; London, UK; and Zurich, CH

 

According to Jason Moore, modern capitalist economies, and their boom-bust cycles, are rooted on the island of Madeira (the Portuguese word for wood). In the early 1400s, Portuguese settlers began felling the island’s forests, resulting in rapid deforestation and, ultimately, depletion. As timber harvesting gave way to sugar cultivation, enslaved Africans were brought to work on the island’s plantations. But as Madeira ran out of wood, labor productivity collapsed too, with sugar production peaking in 1506 and then suffering an astonishingly rapid decrease by 1525. Uriel Orlow’s project Reading Wood (Backwards) (2022) explores the historical continuum that ties colonial expansion to the neocolonial practices of the contemporary timber industry as well as the legacies of bioprospecting missions, botanical expeditions, and the collecting of plant samples. Departing from the concept of the wood library, or xylotheque, the artist delves into the Xiloteca of the Palácio da Calheta, located in the Jardim Botânico Tropical (formerly Jardim Colonial) in Lisbon, to ask: “What happens when the forest becomes a library, serving Western knowledge systems and economies of extraction?”

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Uriel Orlow, Reading Wood (Backwards), 2022, installation, wallpaper, photographs, wood objects, sounds; performative activation, dimensions and duration variable, research image © Uriel Orlow/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

Well into the 1970s—long after all other European countries had forfeited their colonies—the Xiloteca was still overseeing botanical expeditions to Portugal’s African colonies. Concerned with the attritional lethality of the environmental degradation that takes place gradually and often invisibly, Orlow focuses his attention on the entanglements of human and nonhuman actors in order to read the archive against the grain and to consider what a restitution of the natural world means.

Ana Teixeira Pinto

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Uriel Orlow, Reading Wood (Backwards), 2022, installation, wallpaper, photographs, wood objects, sounds; performative activation, dimensions and duration variable, research image © Uriel Orlow/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

Exhibitions

Take Care: Art and Medicine, 2022, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich (CH)

Icone Vegetali. Art And Botanics in the 21st century, 2022, Museo Villa dei Cedri, Bellinzona (CH)

Learning From Artemisia, 2020, La Loge, Brussels (BE) und State of Concept Athens, Athens (GR) (solo)

Uriel Orlow, 2019, Tabakalera – International Centre of Contemporary Culture, Donostia-San Sebastián (ES)

Uriel Orlow – Conversing with Leaves, 2019, Kunsthalle Mainz, Mainz (DE) (solo)

The Fairest Heritage, 2019, Villa Romana, Florence (IT) (solo)