Visual artist Clément Verger questions the apparent wilderness of the landscapes that surround us. From its beginning, mankind has shaped the land to suit its needs and desires, levelling coasts, carving valleys and planning forests.
In his project, Endeavour Clément Verger isolates a specific example of the larger phenomenon representative of the Anthropocene Epoch, that is the transportation and implantation of species across the world. The Eucalyptus tree and its introduction in Europe becomes a case study, a tool to analyse the complex patterns in man’s influence on its environment.
In 1768 James Cook took captainship of the Endeavour, a British Royal Navy research vessel setting sails on his first great voyage. The three-year journey was commissioned by the Royal Navy and the Royal Society to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun, as a way to solve the Longitude problem and with the hidden agenda to seek an unknown southern continent Terra Australis.
It was the secondary mission of the expedition that held Joseph Banks’ interest; Banks’ was the son of a wealthy Lincolnshire landowner, a botanist and naturalist driven by a thirst for knowledge and fame. Joseph Banks, at the age of 25, supplied an estimated £10,000 (over one million pounds today) of his own money to equip the expedition that would lead him to introduce the first specimens of Eucalyptus in Europe.
By the 19th century there was almost no native woodland left in Portugal and, in 1866, some 35,000 eucalyptus trees were planted around Coimbra in an effort to control devastating erosion. Furthermore it was thought that the trees would help to drain swamplands and reduce the incidence of malaria. Almost a century later, Scandinavian timber companies began buying up vast parcels of Portuguese land to grow Eucalyptus Globulus, or blue gums, to pulp for paper. Today the exotic blue gum is the most abundant tree in Portugal, covering about 7% of the land. The vast plantations crippled biodiversity, lowered the water table and multiplied numbers of forest fires, among others.
Endeavour is an ongoing project that began in 2016 during the Independent AIR residency in Portugal with the support of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra, The City of Aarhus European Capital of Culture 2017, and the CNAP and the Cité Internationale des Arts.