Watanabe Koichi shows us how to dream with plants.
——Anna Tsing, anthropologist
Kontara-eruha: the appearance of this strange foreign plant name in mid-nineteenth-century Japanese translations of Western medical texts reveals how people, driven by hope and greed, once crisscrossed the world in search of plants that would bring cure—and profit. A fascination with that name and the herbs behind it set the author on a fantastic quest that would carry him over a 500-year timespan from the fifteenth century to the present day and across vast reaches to Europe, the Americas, and Asia; in this book, he recounts that quest and the vision it led him to of what genuine symbiosis with, rather than mere exploitation of, plants might look like.
Kontara-eruha is the Japanese rendering of contrayerba, which comes from the Spanish contra meaning “against (poison)” and yerba meaning “herb.” In other words, the term indicated an herbal antidote to toxins. Tracing the history of the herbs that it denoted, no longer in use today, the author found various plant species with the name appearing and disappearing over time, and saw also how these and other plants were turned into saleable commodities, traded worldwide for use as spices and medicine.
Here is a unique collection of photographs by an author who, through his far-reaching inquiry into plants, confronts the natural world and thinks about how we may live in harmony with it.
Watanabe Koichi was born in Osaka Prefecture in 1967 and graduated from Osaka City University in 1990. He completed the Inter Medium Institute photography course in 2000. His debut series, Moving Plants, was a photographic and textual account of Japanese knotweed and its status as an invasive species in Europe. The series was shown in solo exhibitions at the Third Gallery Aya (2015), Shiseido Gallery (2018), and elsewhere, and published in book form by Seigensha in 2015.