Plant Art from the Amazon: Tree Performance in the Work of Frans Krajcberg




This article examines plant performance in the work of naturalized Brazilian artist Frans Krajcberg (1921-2017). Krajcberg saw his art as a way to give voice to forest plants that are being systematically destroyed through fires and logging, to give way to agribusiness ventures. He used burnt trunks of Amazonian trees he collected after forest fires to create a series of sculptures that denounced the environmental crimes taking place in the region. I resort to biosemiotics, New Materialism and Indigenous, peasant and riverine Amazonian thought as possible theoretical frameworks to interpret Krajcberg's sculptures as a human/plant collaboration that questions species divides and even the boundaries between living and non-living matter. The import of his pieces is clear: the bodies of the dead and charred trees are given a new life in Krajcberg’s work that incorporates them and turns them into art. I argue that his artworks are a fusion between the bare physically of the dead trees that speak to us through their materiality and the artist’s craft. The trees are very clearly inscribed into the sculptures that allow them to speak from beyond their grave, as it were, and to become living symbols of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

Author Biography

Patrícia Vieira, CES, Universidade de Coimbra / Universidade de Georgetown

Patrícia Vieira is Senior Researcher at the Centre for Social Studies (CES) of the University of Coimbra and Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Georgetown University. Her most recent monograph is States of Grace: Utopia in Brazilian Culture (SUNY UP, 20018) and her most recent co-edited book is The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence (Synergetic, 2021). She is the recipient of a European Research Council grant to analyze literature, cinema and art about the Amazon River basin.


Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe Half Way: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bennett, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Cadena, Marisol de la. 2015. Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice Across Andean Worlds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Castro, Eduardo Viveiros de. 1998. “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism.” Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 4 (3): 469–88.

Collontonio, Alex, and Christian Cravo. 2005. “Screams from the Forest: Frans Krajcberg Uses His Art to Protest Man’s Destruction of the Planet.” Americas 57 (4): 41–45.

Deely, John. Basics of Semiotics. 1990. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Depondt, Sylvie, and Claude Mollard. eds. 2017. Frans Krajcberg: un artiste en resistance. Plaissan: Museo Éditions.

Favareau, Donald. 2010. “Introduction: An Evolutionary History of Biosemiotics.” In Essential Readings in Biosemiotics: Anthology and Commentary, edited by Donald Favareau, 1–77. Heidelberg: Springer.

Frans Krajcberg: Imagens do Fogo. 1992. Rio de Janeiro: Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro.

Galeano, Juan Carlos, dir. 2017. El Río.

Hegel, G. F. W. 1977. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Iovino, Serenella. and Serpil Oppermann. 2014. “Introduction: Stories Come to Matter.” In Material Ecocriticism, edited by Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann, 1–17. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Isaac, Cristiana Bernardi. 2013. “Krajcberg e Oiticica: Precursores da Arte na Paisagem no Brasil.” Paisagem e Ambiente: Ensaios 31: 125–46.

Kull, Kalevi, Claus Emmeche and Jesper Hoffmeyer. 2011. “Why Biosemiotics? An Introduction to Our View on the Biology of Life Itself.” In Towards a Semiotic Biology: Life is the Action if Signs, edited by Claus Emmeche and Kalevi Kull, 1–21. London: Imperial College Press.

Karlsson, Fredrik. 2012. “Critical Anthropomorphism and Animal Ethics.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 25: 707–720.

Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Krajcberg, Frans, and Claude Mollard. 2017. “Nouveau Manifeste du Naturalisme Intégrale.” In Frans Krajcberg: un artiste en resistance, edited by Sylvie Depondt and Claude Mollard, 78–81. Plaissan: Museo Éditions.

Krampen, Martin. 2010. “Phytosemiotics.” In Essential Readings in Biosemiotics: Anthology and Commentary, edited by Donald Favareau, 262–277. Heidelberg: Springer.

McNee, Malcolm K. 2014. The Environmental Imaginary in Brazilian Poetry and Art. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Maran, Timo. 2014. “Biosemiotic Criticism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, edited by Greg Garrad, 260–275. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Restany, Pierre, Sepp Baendereck and Frans Krajcberg. 2017. “Manifeste du Rio Negro du Naturalisme Intégrale.” In Frans Krajcberg: un artiste en resistance, edited by Sylvie Depondt and Claude Mollard, 74–76. Plaissan: Museo Éditions.

Russo, Sylvia. 2009. “La révolte du Phénix.” Vie des Arts 53 (216): 20–21.

Ryan, John Charles. 2020. “Writing the Lives of Plants: Phytography and the Botanical Imagination.” a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 35 (1): 97–122.

Salles, Walter, dir. 1986. Krajcberg: O Poeta dos Vestígios.

Slater, Candace. 1994. Dance of the Dolphin: Transformation and Disenchantment in the Amazonian Imagination. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Walters, Roberta Lanese. 1999. “Frans Krajcberg: Art in Defense of the Forest.” PhD Thesis. Texas Tech University.

Wheeler, Wendy. 2011. “The Biosemiotic Turn: Adbuction, or, the Nature of Creative Reason in Nature and Culture.” In Ecocritical Theory: New European Approaches, edited by Axel Goodbody and Kate Rigby, 270–282. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.




How to Cite

Vieira, Patrícia. 2021. “Plant Art from the Amazon: Tree Performance in the Work of Frans Krajcberg”. Performance Philosophy 6 (2):82-99.