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"Before and After Leaves"

This presentation will examine the antecedents of Colombia’s fumigation campaign
back to British colonial experimentation with herbicides and the defoliation strategies
of the Cold War. There, not for the first time but certainly in a particularly acute
way, the forest was constructed as an image, the canopy being understood as an
image-surface that had, as it were, to be detached from the environment in order
to reveal the enemy hiding underneath. This highly imagistic conception of nature
is carried forward into the present Colombian context, but in a modified, twisted
form. Now the plant – the leaf-surface – is itself the enemy. In the case of the US
war on Vietnam, plant life was de facto co-criminalised by association with a human
enemy, indeed with a political movement - that being Communism. In the Colombian
case, the criminalisation of non-human life is formal, and thus the eradication
appears to prioritise the plant; people are guilty by association with coca. However,
it is worth remembering that eradication still takes place in the context of counterinsurgency
warfare, such that the ‘war on drugs’ could be read as a stand-in for a war
of political and environmental domination.
Hannah Meszaros Martin is an artist, writer and currently a CHASE funded PhD
candidate at the Center for Research Architecture. Her work focuses on non-human
criminality and environmental violence in the context of the ongoing armed
conflict in Colombia. She was a part of the Modelling Kivalina group which exhibited
at the House of World Cultures (HKW), Berlin and of Forensic Architecture’s
exhibition and contributed to FORENSIS (Sternberg, 2014). She has exhibited solo
work in Medellín, London and at the documenta(13). She has published with Open
Democracy and Different Skies, a publication that she co-founded in 2012.