The Banana Papers was initiated as part of the research project IMMUNE / ÓNÆM in 2019, which stemmed from a questioning of what is considered a country’s native biota. The colonial report Travels to Iceland commissioned by the Danish king in 1752 has become a defining work for Iceland in this regard. A group reading of the report laid the basis from which the different projects in IMMUNE / ÓNÆM could investigate present expansions of neo-colonialism. With the Banana Papers hands.on.matter followed the historical, botanical, and mythical traces of the banana plant in Iceland.
Since the 1920’s, geothermal heating has made it possible to grow tropical plants in the middle of the cold north Atlantic. In the late 1930’s the first bananas (Musa acuminata) were introduced to grow in greenhouses in Iceland. Today the agricultural university in Hveragerði cultivates a few different banana plants in safe distance from a roaring fungus (Panama Disease or Fusarium wilt) that is threatening the production and trade of bananas worldwide.
The Musa is a plant unable to reproduce; instead shoots taken from the roots of existing plants are used to grow identical clones. Due to this, the genetic diversity of commercial bananas, the same few individuals of the Cavendish, is very low. The Cavendish is currently said to be the world's main commercial crop. The cultivation of bananas in Iceland is not only preserving a plant that soon might become the last of its kind, it is also feeding a sensational narration of a tropical plant growing in Iceland by harnessing the power of natural resources.
In August 2021 we went on a research trip to Iceland as part of the collaborative research project and eventually exhibition IMMUNE / ÓNÆM. The banana plant had become the starting point of our exploration, which expanded into topics such as natural resources, historical narratives and identity-making.
Banana peel paper is thin and delicate. The irregularities, holes and porousness of the material represents the fragility of the banana in the current global economy. Bananas are a nutritious staple that is consumed worldwide. They cost just a few cents, even though they are produced in tropical climates. The Banana Papers also questions the extensive cultivation of nature, commercialized promises of sustainability and excessive global consumption.
The site specific installation invited visitors of the Living Art Museum to engage in paper making followed by gluing and layering the sheets of paper directly onto the wall of the museum.
In The Living Arts Museum in Reykjavik the results of the assembly of research projects were shown from 19th of March till 1st of May 2022.
Christian Frank Müller
The Agricultural University Iceland
The Living Art Museum (Nýló)