Soils Affinities — Affinités des Sols


Film, installation, new media, sculpture...

Soils Affinities
Affinités des Sols

Past: October 11 → December 8, 2018

Uriel%20orlow,%20soil%20affinities,%202018 05 bd 1 original 1 grid Uriel Orlow — Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers Après plus d’un an de résidence aux Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, l’artiste Uriel Orlow y présente jusqu’au 8 décembre l’exposition... 2 - Bien Critique

In residence at Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers since April 2017, Uriel Orlow has been engaged in a project which continues his interest in plants and their relation to specific local and (post-)colonial histories this time with a specific focus on vegetables. Soil Affinities returns to Aubervilliers’ 19th century market gardening past which ended when the factories started to take over the ground, around the same time as European countries, including France, began to develop a colonial agriculture in Africa. After a year of research in Aubervilliers and in West Africa (Mali and Senegal), Uriel Orlow presents the results of his residency in the form of an exhibition at Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers. Soils Affinities is guided by a series of interconnected questions : How can plants become a compass to map historical and contemporary (post-)colonial relations? What remains today of Aubervilliers’ market gardening past apart from the town’s street names?

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Uriel Orlow, Soils Affinities (ancien jardin colonial français, Vincennes), 2018 © Uriel Orlow

When the market gardeners — the maraîchers — had to leave the Marais in Paris to make space for the bourgeois and settled in the fertile Plaine des Vertus of which Aubervilliers is a part, they took their earth with them and set up a cultivating technique which until 1900 provided over 90 percent of all the vegetables sold at Les Halles in Paris, and which can thus be considered as a precursor of both intensive farming and permaculture. Similarly, vegetable varieties take their place of origin with them as they travel: the famous choux de Milan became a staple crop in Aubervilliers, as was the local onion variety jaune paille des Vertus, which has been cultivated in West Africa since.

In 1899, following the infamous Berlin conference which divided Africa between the European powers, and around the same time as suburban agriculture had to make space for new industries and their factories in Aubervilliers, the French colonial department created the colonial test garden at the Eastern end of the Bois de Vincennes in Paris.This would become a hub for plants and seeds from the new world. In specially designed transport boxes — the so called Ward crates — plants would be shipped from the Americas to Paris and from there to the newly set up test gardens in Dakar, Saint Louis and elsewhere in West Africa. Over time those same gardens also started experimenting with and cultivating European staples — such as tomatoes, peppers, green beans, onions, cabbage etc. — for the growing French settler population.

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Uriel Orlow, Soils Affinities (Vitrail de Notre-Dame des Vertus, Aubervilliers), 2018 © Uriel Orlow

The large scale cultivation of staple vegetables in West Africa — as opposed to the previous economic plants such as cocoa, coffee, peanut etc. — took off after independance from France in 1960 with a number of French and European companies creating industrial farms in Senegal producing almost exclusively for Rungis, one of the biggest wholesale markets in Europe, just outside Paris.

What is left of the agricultural heritage in Aubervilliers ? If one looks closely ― following the footsteps of Paul Jovet, a 20th century botanist and teacher in Aubervilliers in the 1920s who, on his lunch breaks, collected plants growing in the city, as opposed to his colleagues at the National Natural History Museum in Paris who were much more excited about discovering new exotic species overseas ― as one walks the streets of Aubervilliers, one can find many descendants of market varieties growing on industrial wastelands as and around the town’s pavements.

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Uriel Orlow, Soils Affinities (laitue sauvage dans la rue, Aubervilliers), 2018 © Uriel Orlow

Soils Affinities traces these lines and networks of terrestrial connections between plants and people, across different geographies and temporalities, through video, photography, and other documents gathered in France, Senegal and Mali over the past year. The exhibition is conceived as a display of these materials in their state of germination, in a horizontal, non-linear manner that allows them to speak for themselves as well as cross-fertilise each other. The display invites to reflect on structural arrangements and subjective processes produced by plant displacement in colonial, post-colonial and post industrial settings.

The globalization of cultures generating social and economic divisions of land use and labour, can be re-thought through the prism of plants.

Wednesday to Saturday, 2 pm to 6 pm & by appointment

  • Soils Affinities — Récit d’exposition et découverte des vertus des plantes du jardin Event Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 4 PM

    Exhibition tale and exploration of the virtues of plants in La Semeuse’s garden with Jean-Charles Teulier (botanist)

  • Soils Affinities — Récit d’exposition Event Saturday, October 20, 2018 at 4 PM

    Exhibition tale with Bouba Touré (writter, photographer and co-founder of the Samandiki Coura Cooperative in Mali)

  • Soils Affinities — Découverte du jardin ouvrier des vertus Visit Saturday, October 27, 2018 at 4 PM

    Exploration of the worker virtues garden with Léonard Nguyen Van Thé (gardener) 

  • Soils Affinities — Récit d’exposition Event Saturday, November 10, 2018 at 4 PM

    Exhibition tale with Bernadette Lizet (ethnobotanist / ethnobiologist)

  • Soils Affinities — Projection du film La lettre paysanne de Safi Faye Screening Saturday, December 8, 2018 at 4 PM

    Screening of La lettre paysanne (1975) film by Safi Faye

  • Closing Saturday, December 8, 2018 at 6 PM

    Closing of the exhibition with the participation of Uriel Orlow

93 Seine-St-Denis Zoom in 93 Seine-St-Denis Zoom out

41, rue Lécuyer

93300 Aubervilliers

T. 01 53 56 15 90 — F. 01 53 56 15 99

Aubervilliers – Pantin Quatre Chemins

Opening hours

Monday to Friday from 11 am to 6 pm and Saturday from 1 pm to 6 pm

Admission fee

Free entrance

And on booking for events at

The artist

  • Uriel Orlow