July 22 – September 24, 2022
In The Vegetarian, their first solo exhibition in Canada, TJ Shin transfects their DNA into mugwort, a perennial plant categorized as an invasive species in North America and used to treat malaria in various parts of the world. Supported by the University at Buffalo, Shin induces changes to the plant’s genome by blasting their DNA particles onto foraged mugwort using a gene gun commonly used for agricultural engineering. The multisensory exhibition features herbarium collages, digital prints, and video, all derived from fluorescent microscope scans tracing the genealogy of the plant transformation.
At the exhibition’s centre is a large-scale sculptural scentscape: a vascular system made from the transfected mugwort, to be burned at regular intervals throughout the exhibition in a practice inspired by Korean shamanistic ritual. The organic matter on display, neither plant nor animal, native nor invasive, living nor dying, presents a transmutative subject that troubles the vertical hierarchy of life and echoes what Mel Y. Chen calls “transplantimalities,” a human subject taking a “tranimal” turn. In transfusing with mugwort and becoming both a toxic poison and a miracle cure, Shin draws out the pestilence and persistence of insurgent sociality, survival, and death.
The Vegetarian explores how the figure of the “pest,” which threatens the economy of settler-colonial ownership and property, gives rise to disease management, imperial expansion, and extractive economies. Expanding on the philosophy and critical theory of pharmakon, which triangulates the epidemiology of remedy, poison, and scapegoat, The Vegetarian unpacks how medicine, botany, and science coalesce through the administration of landscapes, plants, and animals. In turn, Shin considers how pestiferous or “malarial” subjects come to constitute the biopolitical networks of “disease ecologies” and the racial regime of “vegetated” life, revealing colonialism to be the source of, rather than the solution to, disease epidemics.
Conversation with Neel Ahuja
Photos by Kathy Whitt
Mourning Portrait 2, 2022. Preserved transfected mugwort with artist’s DNA, etched plaque, wood.
Mourning Portrait 3, 2022. Preserved transfected mugwort with artist’s DNA, etched plaque, wood.
Untitled (Microscope Slide), 2022. DNA-coated particles, plastic rupture discs, petridish, wood, LED lights.
Anthropology of a Phytomorphist, 2021–2022. Video, 14:00 (Sound co-produced by Shannon Lee).