Juana Córdova is well-known for her subtle, but poetic, responses to our natural world using unexpected materials. For the duration of her residency at Artpace, she focused on two species of plants from the Americas: achiote (Bixa Orellana) and the tumbleweed (Russian Thistle). The tumbleweed arrived in the Americas in a shipment of flaxseed from Russia, and in the western United States conditions were perfect for its propagation. Achiote originated the Amazon jungle and its presence extends into the tropical regions of Central and South America.
Achiote are seeds from a shrub that are typically dried, ground, and used as a spice or dye in cosmetics, textiles, and gastronomy since the Pre-Columbian era. It is well-known in Ecuador and is used in ritual practices of Tsáchilas or “colorados,” indigenous people of Ecuador, for its associated curative properties. The artist chose to use achiote because of its characteristic color (the natural color code is E160b) which historically has been used in food and clothing. Exodus, installed the southwest corner of the gallery, is composed entirely of achiote seeds which speaks both literally and figuratively to the spread of both flora and people.
For a number of works in the gallery, the artist used tumbleweeds, a plant that once dry, breaks from its roots and travels with the wind, disseminating its seeds. Tumbleweeds carry with them their own connotations in popular culture as icons of the American West and metaphorical representations of western expansion, contrary to their actual Russian origins. Córdova states, “I see tumbleweeds as a symbol of freedom, a plant that travels through deserts with the help of the wind. It is a species that detaches from the land and scatters its seeds aimlessly.”
Córdova’s attention to the history and behavior of botanical life that spreads from its origins to abroad is germane in border states such as Texas. Myriad connections can be made between the journey of these plants and those of immigrants who leave their homes, in search of better conditions and relief from wars and poverty.