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Eline Kersten

Flora of the Colosseum

Underworld (2019)

& Via Appia Park


Flora of the Colosseum

De bekendste handelsroute van de Romeinen, de Via Appia, is jarenlang als pelgrimsroute gelopen met het Colosseum als eindbestemming. Pelgrims uit alle uithoeken van de wereld namen zaden mee van hun lokale vegetatie thuis, om deze ter plekke in het Colosseum te verspreiden. Op deze manier brachten pelgrims een stukje van hun thuis mee naar hun eindbestemming. Dit, de verspreiding van zaden door de mens, wordt antropochorie genoemd. Op den duur heeft deze traditie ervoor gezorgd dat er honderden verschillende soorten bomen, planten en bloemen in het Colosseum groeiden, waaronder een aantal zeer zeldzame soorten die in die tijd nog nooit in Europa gezien waren. Het was een vegetatieve representatie van een cultureel-religieus verschijnsel van die tijd. In recentere tijden is het Colosseum vrij gemaakt van vegetatie om het onderhoud van de ruïne effectiever te maken en de toegankelijkheid voor toeristen te optimaliseren. Een ding is duidelijk, het Colosseum mocht voortaan niet meer bekend staan om haar vegetatieve pracht.

Hoewel er duidelijke verschillen aan te wijzen zijn in ontstaansgeschiedenis, is de analogie met het Amstelpark in dit verhaal treffend. Als wereldtentoonstelling voor horticultuur, werd het Amstelpark speciaal geconstrueerd voor de Floriade: vegetatie stond juist centraal en hier werd uitbundig mee gepronkt. De wereldtentoonstelling vormde dus ook, geheel op haar eigen manier, een vegetatieve representatie van een tijdsgeest: de Floriade is in het leven geroepen om een breed publiek te tonen wat er op dat punt in de tijd mogelijk was op het gebied van horticultuur. Waar de vegetatie van het Colosseum moest verdwijnen voor de toenemende opmars van reizigers, toeristen en pelgrims, vormde de vegetatie van het Amstelpark juist een trekpleister voor toeristen.

In het project ‘Flora of the Colosseum’ breng ik de verdwenen vegetatie van het Colosseum tijdelijk terug naar het Amstelpark in Amsterdam. Hierbij ga ik uit van de gelijknamige publicatie uit 1855 dat het onderzoek van de botanist Richard Deakin bundelt. In deze publicatie zijn 420 soorten flora gecategoriseerd die in der tijd in het Colosseum hebben gegroeid. In dit project zet ik morse code als decodering techniek in om een vertaalslag te maken om de verdwenen flora terug te brengen naar het Amstelpark. In het Glazen Huis zal ik de verdwenen en vergeten vegetatie op een visuele en auditieve manier tonen en in de Romeinse tuin van het Amstelpark zal ik een lichtkunstwerk plaatsen. Een knipperende lamp stelt de Romeinse tuin bloot aan de verdwenen vegetatie van het Colosseum, dat hier opnieuw, tijdelijk, even mag verschijnen. Wanneer het donker is, verwordt de lamp tot een soort vuurtoren, een herkenbaar baken dat licht seint. Omdat het park na zonsondergang is gesloten, zijn de plantennamen die in lichtseinen gecommuniceerd worden enkel voor de vegetatie in de Romeinse tuin bestemd. De vegetatie uit de Romeinse tuin wordt zo herenigt met de vegetatie die het hoort te representeren.
The most famous trade route of the Romans, the Via Appia, has been a pelgrimsroute for many years, with the Colosseum as its final destination. Pelgrims from all over the world took seeds with them from their local vegetation at home, to spread it in the Colosseum. In this way, pelgrims brought a piece of their homeland to their final destination. This, the dispersion of seeds by humans, is called antropochory. Over time, this tradition has caused hundreds of different species of flora to grow in the Colosseum, among which a number of rare species that had never been detected in Europe before that time. The flora in the Colosseum became a vegetative representation of a cultural-religious phenomenon. In recent times, the vegetation of the Colosseum has been removed to make the maintenance of the ruin more effective and to optimize the accessibility for tourists. One thing is clear, from that moment on the Colosseum has no longer been known for its vegetative splendor.

Although there are clear differences in its history, the analogy with the Amstelpark is striking. As the world exhibition in horticulture, the Amstelpark is especially constructed for the Floriade. The world exhibition therefore was, in its own way, a vegetative representation of the zeitgeist: the Floriade was created to show a wide audience what was possible in the field of horticulture at that point in time. The vegetation of the Colosseum had to disappear for the increasing amounts of travellers, tourists and pelgrims, while the vegetation of the Amstelpark formed the main attraction for tourists.

In the project ‘Flora of the Colosseum’, I bring the lost vegetation of the Colosseum temporarily back to the Amstelpark in Amsterdam, using the eponymous publication from 1855 that collects the research by botanist Richard Deakin. In this publication, 420 species of flora have been categorized that have grown in the Colosseum in that time. In this project, I use morse code as a translating decoding technique to bring back the lost flora to the Amstelpark. In the Glazen Huis I will show the lost and forgotten vegetation in a visual and auditive way, and in the Roman garden of the Amstelpark I will place a light artwork. A blinking lamp exposes the Roman garden to the lost vegetation of the Colosseum, that temporarily shine here again. When it is dark, the lamp becomes a lighthouse, a recognizable beacon that signs light. Because the park is closed after sunset, the plant names that are communicated in light signs are only destined for the vegetation in the Roman garden. In this way, the vegetation in the Roman garden is reunited with the vegetation it is supposed to represent.

Via Appia Park

Eline Kersten, 2018-2019

Thousands of years ago, the Colli Albani, a volcano located south of Rome, started to produce big clouds of white vapor and subsequently erupted in immeasurable amounts. An enormous fountain of fire followed and formed a river of lava that interestingly streamed towards Rome in a straight line. The cooled down layer of volcanic material was used by the Romans as the foundation of what later became their most famous trade route, the Via Appia. It is this given, the way in which the landscape steered the lava causing it to flow entirely straight, on which the Romans based their trade route, that fascinates me.

Nowadays, the soil of the Via Appia distinguishes itself because of its fertile qualities through the presence of lava. In the artwork ‘Underworld’, I approach the earth or soil as a living entity and a world as such; as a composition of minerals and chemical processes, a web of living entities that serve as a home for microorganisms, bacterias, fungi, animals and insects. It is as well the place where human bodies are buried and dissolve over time.

Drawing on María Puig de la Bellacasa's essay ‘Encountering Bioinfrastructures: Ecological Struggles and the Sciences of Soil’, it can be stated that soil consists of remnants or residues. Soil is everything that doesn't fit into a category. Lava itself can be seen as a melting pot of remnants. Based on the theories of Puig de la Bellacasa, the artwork shows how the ground beneath our feet is much more than that: soil embodies geological, ecological, cultural and historical value. In many cultures and traditions, soil is the final destination of most creatures. In that sense, soil is the home for all residues. ‘Underworld’ articulates that soil is something to care for collectively as it is a form of heritage in itself.

Soil is also an interesting case for the study of absence: it is all around, yet hardly apparent for many of us. Soil is the host of ruins, it’s a container, a more or less irrelevant background. Puig de la Bellacasa states that making soil visible and treating its passing into visibility as an event in its own right, will reveals soil’s cultural significance. In this process, the acknowledgement that soil has been a forgotten element of our ecosystem, is the first step towards renewing our connection to the world underneath. The acknowledgment that we are soil, that we are residues ourselves, can also help us make a step into making soil visible as a living entity.

The artwork consists of three soil borings in their original cases presented as a sculpture, accompanied by an audio piece with excerpts of Puig de la Bellacasa’s essay ‘Encountering Bioinfrastructures: Ecological Struggles and the Sciences of Soil’. For the creation of the work, I worked together with Gijs Pyckevet, architect at Studio ABDR in Rome. During the research phase of Exploded View artist Jacqueline Heerema and I discovered a shared fascination for soil. In the exhibition, we also show our collaboration and make visible our ongoing dialogue about soil.
Eline Kersten graduated from a Bachelor in Fine Arts, after which she completed a Master in Curating at Goldsmiths University in London. She works as an artist and independent curator. In her practice, she researches the relationship between humans and the earth, or more local, between humans and their direct environment. She is interested in the meaning we give to landscapes through the stories we tell about them and the way these are personally, politically, historically or ecologically colored.