Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed

Indeterminate Structures of Repair

Indeterminate Structures of Repair addresses the entanglement of human and nonhuman agency made tangible by invasive species. It calls for the need to harness this relationship and develop research on a plant that is naturally mass-produced. Combining the artist's background in sculpture and current work in design for the end of the world, Fertik developed a novel material from an abundant and valuable natural resource.

Japanese knotweed brought to the West in the mid-1800s as an ornamental, is a displaced species that rapidly takes over riversides and disturbed soils in all but 5 states in the US. It is resilient to almost all methods of extermination and often grows back stronger long after its removal. But despite its invasive tendencies, this plant has the potential to be manipulated into something as strong as wood and as malleable as clay. This project set out to harness this resilience rather than eradicate it by first breaking the plant down to its tough, wood-like essence, then combining it with a binder to form structures out of the resulting pulp. The two completed structures, both moulded by hand and cast using found bricks and wood, exude an archaic, discarded quality with rough uneven textures and earthly brutality. Shelters, structures and standing forms have long occupied the imagination of Fertik and have made their way into much of his experimental practice. With a nod to materialist thinkers Elvia Wilk and Jane Bennett and a fascination with various archives of open-source recipes, the artist cherishes an outlook of the world as a constant interaction of materials and beings, overlapping and transforming in uncertain ways, ultimately leading to an emergence of more ecological modes of production and consumption.

Additional information

One will first need to find and identify a significant patch of land that is occupied by Japanese knotweed. The leaves are wide and flat and almost heart-shaped. They are almost never alone so once you find one you will find many. The stems look similar to bamboo with clearly delineated nodes. Harvest by carefully slicing the stem above the ground. Its rhizomes can extend almost 20 ft wide and 10 ft deep so one might want to avoid the task of full removal. Next, slice the stems into manageable pieces and soak them overnight in water. The next day, one must drain the water and boil the stems for 3 hours with a few pinches of calcium carbonate to help it break down and enough water to cover the stems. Then, after draining the hot water, one must pulverise the stems with a hammer until they are flat and fibrous. Finally, place the stems in a blender with some water as needed and blend to a fine pulp. One will then drain this water well to find their damp Japanese knotweed pulp. At this point, one can add gum arabica to make paper or add gum arabica and some sodium alginate to make a structural paste that can be moulded or cast as desired. Using a dehydrator and or freeze dryer will vastly speed up the drying process too.

Ingredient list

Japanese knotweed pulp, calcium carbonate, water, gum arabica, sodium alginate

Maker

Maxwell Fertik

Credits

Rhode Island School of Design, Hyundai Motor Group, Edna W. Lawrence NatureLab for the summer fellowship during which this was completed

Photo credits

Maxwell Fertik