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Eline Kersten

Flora of the Colosseum

& Via Appia Park


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

In earlier projects, I have researched the infrastructure of specific places and landscapes in multiple ways. For Exploded View, I will look at the soil of the Via Appia Antica and map the micro infrastructure and ecosystems of this area.

The starting point of my research on the Appian Park begins with a large scale event that happened thousands of years ago when the Colli Albani, a volcano located south of Rome, produced 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 later 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 and on, which the Romans then based their trade route, that fascinates me.

The soil of the Via Appia distinguishes itself because of its fertile qualities through the presence of lava. In my project, 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 microorganism, bacterias, funghi, animals and insects. It is as well the place where human bodies are buried and dissolve over time. The soil can therefore be seen as the carrier of the memory of humanity.

In the research period I have collaborated with a couple of geologists (among which prof. Sveva Corrado and Gianluigi Gianella), a volcanologist (Marina Fabbri) and my collaborator architect Gijs Pycketvet. Having found a soil boring of circa 20 metres, I have analysed its samples with Sveva Corrado and Marina Fabbri of the Geology department of Università Roma Tre. The scientific analysis will be processed in a story that describes a fictional journey through the soil from the perspective of a mole, and will be recorded in audio. The audio work furthermore borrows ideas from Maria Puig della Bellacasa’s essay ‘Encountering Bioinfrastructures: Ecological Struggles and the Science of Soil’, in which she states that the earth or soil is an interesting case in thinking about absence; soil is everywhere around yet is hardly visible. Generally, soil is thought of as a host for ruins or other historical remnants, as a container, a more or less irrelevant background. Though, soil is a living entity of which humans are part, most definitely in this historical location.
In the end, I envision to exhibit the boring as a sort of archaeological finding, together with four speakers playing the audio piece. With the work, I want to make the statement that also soil itself can be seen as heritage. Furthermore, I am establishing a link with Jacqueline Heerema’s project, who is conducting a soil boring in the Amstelpark. In addition, we develop a public programme in the context of Exploded View, connecting all participating institutions.

Eline Kersten works together with Gijs Pyckevet (architect at Studio ABDR, Rome)
Eline Kersten (1994, Maastricht) graduated from a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, after which she undertook an MFA in Curating at Goldsmiths University in London. Currently she is living in Amsterdam, where she works as an independent curator and artist. At the moment, she is developing a series of events with sound artists in multiple botanical gardens in the Netherlands, which are planned to take place in summer 2019. She has exhibited internationally, including at the BienalSur (Buenos Aires); Dak’Art (Dakar); De Brakke Grond (Amsterdam); Hohensalzburg (Salzburg). She has also curated exhibitions and events internationally, at Cubitt Gallery (London); Gorwiden38 (Zürich); Greylight Projects (Brussels); Schunck* (Heerlen), among others. She furthermore co-founded the collective Nowhere, which offers a platform to recently graduated artists, curators and writers through the publication of online zines.