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the work of Esther Parada accompanied by texts taken from her writings.



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Transplant: A Tale of Three Continents, 1996

Part of La Finca/The Homestead, a website project, organized by Paul Hertz (Northwestern Univ.) on theme of colonization, for the University of Valencia, Spain. Part of a larger site entitled Dig/Cultivation sponsored by the Derby Gallery in England.

A Tale of Three Continents and a Crop

Almost exactly one hundred years ago (May 1895) Mary Victoria Leiter, daughter of Chicago millionaire Levi Z. Leiter, arrived in Derby as the bride of George Nathaniel Curzon of Kedleston. Seven years earlier (in 1887, before he knew Mary) Curzon had visited Chicago as part of his first journey round the world and pronounced it “huge and smokey and absorbed in the worship of Mammon in a grim and melancholy way.” He went on to visit India, where the striking resemblance of Government House in Calcutta to Kedleston in Derbyshire confirmed Curzon's sense of his destiny as Viceroy there. In fact, the architect of Calcutta's Government House had transplanted much of Robert Adam's design for Kedleston to the Asian subcontinent in . . . and indeed, Curzon was named Viceroy of India in 1898. At about the same time in Chicago the bottom dropped out of the wheat market, and Joseph Leiter, Mary's brother, lost close to 10 million dollars, spreading rumors across the Atlantic that Mary's family fortune would no longer be available to support Curzon's stellar diplomatic career. In fact, the Leiters weathered the financial disaster, and the wealth of entrepreneur Levi Leiter continued to supplement aristocrat Curzon's relatively modest income. . .

I tell this story as part of an intricate web of connections between continents, between cultural and agricultural influences, between the entrepreneurial and the ministerial, between wheat as a plant and as a commodity.

I will briefly describe some of my work-in-progress from the series (Dig.Cultivation) developed for Montage Gallery's Internet site. In this context I will present a few examples of digitally synthesized photographic images in a way that questions the concern over manipulated images as distorting the truth. I maintain that it is also important to recognize the deeper levels of manipulation/distortion which are a result of hierarchies of attention and framing.

There is a curious parallel in this recurring debate (re: constructed vs. candid images) with the opposition in English garden traditions — between the artifice of 16th c. Renaissance gardens and the supposedly natural quality of gardens created in the 17th and 18th centuries.

I also look at the vigorous British tradition of plant hunters — what has been variously referred to, depending on the writer's point of view — as collecting exotic specimens, making plant introductions, or promoting botanical imperialism. This ongoing process of transplantation or displacement between continents, or between colonies and the seat of empire, has meant exploitation for some, but has led to a vigorous heterogeneity in the horticultural sphere.

I suggest that this rarely acknowledged history might well serve as a model in terms of human exchange, migration, and cultural diversity.

—From notes for a lecture

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