Monte Testaccio is an artificial mound over 35 meters high, created entirely of broken amphorae used in the Roman Empire to transport olive oil. Since these amphorae couldn’t be recycled, they have been broken and systematically piled up near the Tiber river, in the vicinity of the Emporium, the largest river port of Ancient Rome. Monte Testaccio is thus a testimony of ancient trade, and the final destination of a transport route, bringing oil to Rome. Throughout history the function of the site has changed from trash heap to archaeological site. Inspired by the legacy of Monte Testaccio, ‘Montagne Celibi’ (translated “Celibate Mountains”) is a double monumental installation that brings attention to the wastefulness of contemporary mass production, consumerism and global transport. Two heaps of wasted products, results of contemporary trade and transport, will be erected in the two project locations.
The first heap will consist of a carefully organized pile of containers collected at the security control area of Schiphol Airport. The regulation forbids passengers of an airplane to carry liquids, aerosol and gels (LAGs) exceeding the volume of 100 ml per container. Originally intended as a temporary measure, the LAGs regulation is still active for more than a decade, with huge financial consequences for passengers and retailers, and with huge operational difficulties regarding the removal and disposal of the confiscated products. An enormous amount of mainly plastic containers is being collected and discarded daily because of this regulation. Plastic, the cheapest and most common material used in packaging, is the legacy we are leaving behind for the next generations, an archaeological artifact that will survive for thousands of years. As Monte Testaccio is made by discarded clay vessels, the first heap of ‘Montagne Celibi’ will be made by discarded plastic vessels, a testament to the obsolescence of contemporary products.
The second heap is a reference to the history of the Amstelpark, the Floriade exhibition and the leading position of the Netherlands in the global flower market. It consists of a mountain of flowers that will be left to rot for the duration of the exhibition. A common gift to friends and family, as well as a habitual purchase to decorate our homes, flowers are the highest symbol of vanity, and more than anything else symbolize the ephemerality of life. A huge global network of trade and transport is in place in order to support the inexplicable satisfaction we experience by watching flowers die in vases. The pile of flowers will be realized either indoors or outdoors, and will be left to decay for a long period of time in which the beautiful fresh flowers will slowly rot away and be absorbed by the soil or by the floor. The pleasant smell will mutate into a more acidic and decadent one, while the pile of flowers will slowly disappear, severely reducing its volume.
‘Montagne Celibi’ will represent an archaeology of waste as a duality: as something indelible in the case of plastic waste, and as something ephemeral in the case of the flowers.
Giuseppe Licari works together with Gert-Jan Burgers (VU-Chair in Mediterranean archaeology and director of CLUE+).