JENNY YURSHANSKY                                                                  

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© JENNY YURSHANSKY                                                                             

Works            CV             Current            About






“Blacklisted: A Planted Allegory” explores the socio-political constructs of borders and belonging by interrogating the scientific classification of plants as “native,” “non-native” or “invasive” species. This is done by examining the state protocols of maintaining “blacklists” which are based on criteria such as competitiveness with native plants, negative economic impact, aesthetic value, or harmfulness to humans and fauna. The creation of such lists is constructed with implicit values that are due to the fact that these species arrived through colonialism, manifest destiny, waves of multi-ethnic labor-based immigration, and the global trade of not only goods but also of people. The blacklists’ use of terms such as “alien” or “native” reveal the cultural biases that inform scientific discourse around how, why, and by whom plants are considered “invasive.” Blacklisted questions these notions of alien-invasiveness and the correlated immigration policies founded on evolving notions of nationalism and negative perceptions of refugees, forced migrations, and labor-based immigrants who suffer when popular favor turns.

In “Blacklisted: A Planted Allegory (Audio guide),” listeners are invited to encounter these plants on a choose-your-own-adventure style audio walking tour or as a radio-style drama. It is a web-based field guide for listeners to acquaint themselves with non-native plants commonly found in California. The plants in this audio guide can be found on the grounds of Descanso Gardens but are also just as likely to be in your immediate vicinity. Each plant is performed with an anthropomorphized narrative, channeling its unique history and experience in arriving and settling here. The featured plants arrived mainly as a result of human activity, and are commonly found in homes, parks, medians, kitchen gardens, and vacant lots. These “alien-familiars” include palm trees, succulents, oleanders, and thistles. The narratives they relate are dual; they speak on behalf of their human counterparts as much as their own precarious place in California's landscape. These are the stories of generations of migrants. What these plants offer us is a reflection of a landscape that is cultural as much as it is botanical, everything from humble weeds to deliberate landscaping. This experience is meant to familiarize the audience with these plants to better understand the ways in which the landscape is not only botanical but historical and cultural -- the result of human settlement. The listener is able to experience the plants as a reflection of the people, history, and see how they are a part of that narrative and engage in the often contentious but nevertheless important issues of colonization, migration, borders, citizenship, belonging, and otherness.

My deepest gratitude to the actors who gave their voices, spirit, and artistry to this project: Ali Ahn, Fernanda Andrade, Reiko Aylesworth, Andrea Bowen, Blair Brown, Rob Clare, Holley Fain, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Jason Butler Harner, Rob Nagle, Joy Osmanski, David Ross, Fernando Siqueira, J.B. Waterman, Karen White, and Josh Zuckerman. Audio engineered by Roy Regev.

Generous funding and support for this project at various stages have been provided by:

Descanso Gardens, American Jewish University, Pitzer College Art Galleries, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation / art+environment, The International Artists Studio Program in Stockholm / IASPIS, Arts Initiative Tokyo / A-I-T, Swedish Arts Grants Committee / Konstnärsnämnden, GuestHaus Residency, Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm / Kungliga Konsthögskolan


Blacklisted: A Planted Allegory (Audio Guide)




Streaming audio recordings situated in Descanso Gardens and at American Jewish University


1 - 4 minutes each

Accessible transcript here:


A Planted Allegory (Recollections)