Design activism on the coastal path along the Oslo fjord

One major threat to local biodiversity in Norway is the spreading of alien invasive species. Japanese knotweed is one of the worst plants when it comes to displacing other species. It spreads when we prune it and throw parts of it in ditch edges elsewhere. A stem of 30 cm is enough to start growing in a new place.

The design-project “Missing Species” uses the invasive plant Japanese knotweed (Fallopia Japonica) as the base material as handmade paper from the fibres of the plant. To convey a message and create a scenario, the product of the Japanese knotweed was juxtaposed to local endangered species. Holes in shapes of endangered species were cut out of the Japanese knotweed paper, representing how the local species are likely to be supplanted by invasive exotic garden plants such as the Japanese knotweed. This creates an absence, something which is no longer there.

Papermaking from Japanese knotweed. Making handmade paper is a comprehensive process that requires cooking, hammering and chopping to split the fibres before distributing them in water and scooping them up by a screen. Further on the fibres must dry to form a flat sheet. 

Missing Species:  “deleting” the endangered plant in papers of an invasive plant. The holes are shaped as the vulnerable native plants, Speedwell (Veronica Spicata), Longstalk Cranesbill (Geranium columbinum), Cotoneaster laxiflorus, Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium calceolus), Elm (Ulmus glabra) and European Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris). 

The project was presented as design activism along the coastal path of Larvik in Norway. Along this popular path, Japanese knotweed is a growing problem. The lack of knowledge about this plant and what each of us can do to avoid the spreading was the main message. I, as the designer, was present in the exhibition spot to discuss the issue.

The design object “Missing Species” made the hikers stop and ask questions. Questions about how the handmade paper was made led to questions about the material it was made from, and to the invasive plant, Japanese knotweed which the artwork used as a background and suspension system. From the exhibition site, the tall Japanese knotweed was completely blocking the view of the seascape.