Alexandra Gelis

With - Living Migrant Relations

Interactive multimedia Installation


This interactive, sculptural-sound and film installation traces the transfer of seeds from their native environment to another, either by natural action (wind, water, animals) or by human intervention. This relocation, informed by notions of resistance in the process of migration, allows plants to become allies who nourish the body, the land and the spirit. The installation exhibits plants, soil, bacteria, and stories of migration in a constant biological, political and reciprocal relationship.

By using threads of human hair in form of braids, Gelis registers the movement of seeds from Africa to the Americas. Enslaved African women of San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia used to hide seeds in their braids and mapped escape routes using traditional hair braiding designs. This resistance tactic helped free African enslaved people in the 17th century.

Subsequently, the installation presents plants as storytellers and allies to shape human history. Through an interactive sound component, visitors can listen to short stories of migrants living in Toronto intertwined with soundscapes of plants like plantain, coffee and guayaba (Guava) in their native environment.

An old water pump triggers a 16mm film revealing the internal chemistry of plants that have been exposed to photographic emulsion and direct sunlight for many hours. This process is called phytography and offers a unique view of plants molecular and chemical exchange. The project invites visitors to interact with the hand pump and to play with the pace of the film.

Visitors are invited to share their own stories on the collective journal and to draw and sketch plants from the installation and from their own memories while experiencing subtle vibrations from the sound natural landscapes.

This work was commissioned for HOME(Land): Terra Firma as part of ArtworxTO and curated by Claudia Arana.

Alexandra Gelis is a Colombian-Venezuelan, media artist with a background in visual arts and currently a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Studies at York University. Her work predominantly involves photography, video, electronic and digital processes. Gelis’ work addresses the use of the image in relation to displacement, landscape and politics beyond borders or culturally specific subjects. IG: @alexandragelis

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