Systema Naturae


Jacob Morell's (b. 1990, DK) photographic and writing practice deals with the modularity of perception through organizing structures such as language, technology and beliefs. Through the written word conjoined with photographic investigrations, the artist formulates a reading of collective behavior, values and beleifs. Morell envisions an expanded model of ecology and the environment that encompasses economy, language, social relations and human subjectivity.

This monograph is the expression of an ongoing project.

Systema Naturae

The stories we tell about the environment, implicit and explicit, say a lot about the beliefs we hold as a collective, about ourselves and the type of schema in which the human condition is situated. The stories we are no longer telling and the perspectives that have fallen out of favour tell us something about how our values and ways of seeing may have changed.

Since the ealiest forms of representation, the environment and its features appear as a tapestry of labels and attributes projected from the realm of human affiars. Wheather living on the steppes or costal regions the firmament has evoked motifs long before a Rorschach or Freud devised a practise for probing the modern mind.

As if mankind had left nature as an animal and returned with an intelect that would no longer allow to world to appear as it is, without imposing our own structes and categories to what we are facing.

In a world that increasingly embraced the notion that scientific investigation could yield verifiable truths, Swedish botanist Carl von Linné began developing his Systema Naturae which remains the primary organizational structure for mapping the natural world today. In the Linnean schema, all living things - from flowers to the human race - were placed in structures of kingdoms and conformed to defined ideal types, implicitly labelled male or female. Organisms that did not correspond to its ideal type were dismissed as anomalies.

Despite our sense of self importance, throughout evolution the animal kingdom has played the role of distribution servant, moving seeds and pollen across valleys and continents in exchange for food. In an industrialized world however, a large part of the environment is falling under human dominion, where this exchange happens at scale.

By providing food, wood, beauty or drugs in the human marketplace, species proliferate across all continents, privileged with optimum conditions. The Eucalyptus, once solely reserved to Australia, is now found on most continents, cultivated as one of the most utilized wood crops on earth.

Advances in lighting technology has optimized the conversion of energy from the electrical grid to photosynthesis. For the maximum absorption in green foliage, a combination of red and blue light is used in commercial greenhouses, creating the characteristic glow disseminating in the atmosphere.

What we are looking at is always far more complicated that what we see. It is difficult to parse out what are our own projections. Perhaps we are simply the servants of plants.


Grass has seemingly always existed in the periphery of human affairs. As a resource and a space. Over time it has become entangled with its backdrop in ways that make it difficult to extract/seperate from the substrate in which it exists.

It's a weed, it's a lawn and a symbol. It's competitive arena and an ecology. It is a color and a scent capable of evoking childhood memories.

A mathematician, Benoît Mandelbrot asked How long is the coastline of Great Britain? It is a question to which the answer depends entirely on the scale of which it is being observed. A similar paradox of perception can be raised when observing the boundaries of any object or action in terms of scope and ramifications.

An early approximation of scientific definition of botanical is the form of the botanical illustration. It is a discipline which isolates specimen from an environment in which it is intrinsically enmeshed as ecology on a multitude of levels.

The collector of specimen cut his subject from its surroundings in a similar manner to the former colonialist rulers that drew straight and arbitrary lines across landscapes with disregard for the fuzzy boundaries, visible from perspectives at the ground.

The Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus would select specimen which he deemed perfect and pinned down as an ideal representation of its kind. and he named it in accordance with a unifying system of nomenclature of kingdoms and classes. Linneaus named the genus classification of grass Poa, derived from the Ancient Greek: πόα, póa for fodder.

The lawn may have originated as a consequence of domesticating livestock and emerged as enclosures within early medieval settlements used for communal grazing, distinct from fields reserved for agriculture. Areas of grass regularly grazed by rabbits, horses, sheep or cattle over a long period of time form a very low tight sward similar to a modern lawn.

Forms of this territory re-emerged among European aristocracy as a recreational and decorative space maintained by grazing animals or gardeners. Reserving land for a non-producing decorative crop is an expensive and extravagant proposition for most people at a time for whom the exchange value of the land would remain the primary concern. This space is one in which more lawn-based games and activities approximating tennis, golf and began to form among the classes with time for recreation.

This labor-intensive social and symbolic space underwent a process of democratization with the invention of the mechanical lawn mower, which lowered the maintenance cost thus propagated it as phenomena.

The lawn mower also integrated lawns in suburban expansion and creation of the household aesthetic, as an important aspect of interaction between the natural environment and the constructed urban and suburban space. Having a beautifully kept lawn at home is a signal.

As tertiary effect the lawn mower also turned out to be a catalyst for the codification of modern rules in sports on grass.

From the nineteenth century onward -especially in England and later France- sport was seen as a civilizing instrument. Both civilizing the working classes at home and the colonized populations that were part of the empire. In India, British colonialists would start cricket clubs and teach the local people how to play the game, which would entail the wearing of the uniform, following the rules and boundaries defined by empire referees. Embedded in this relation would be a moral enterprise that would teach discipline, self-control and respect.

Many of the lawn games dramatize a subset of reality. The Court represents a battlefield in which strategies and fortune plays out tactical manoeuvres take place.

Grass is a resource and natural, it is a weed and it is wild. As a lawn it is constructed contained and artificial. Grass is found at home and next to highways. its a landscape and a model of a landscape, it is a multitude of things.

When I see men riding machines mowing and maintain these contained steppes in our cities and beside our infinite network of roads. I can't help but think something inside of him or us, reminisce of the nomadic steppes and pastures from the past.

There is an ocean that surrounds the island that you inhabit and know, and that is everything you don’t know. The infinite.