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Eline Kersten

Humming Trees

& Via Appia Park


Trees are living fossils. Through their slow but gradual growth, small birches can become giants over time. However, trees grow better together in a forest than alone. A forest protects: through an underground network, trees exchange information and nutrients. But can we (mankind) recognize and perhaps even hear this exchange? Can we learn from the way trees are connected? And can we communicate with trees? In other words, can we speak about interspecies communication?

Since some years, the world is captivated by yoga, mindfulness and meditation. On a daily basis, many people meditate during group sessions or alone at home, as a way to include quiet and stillness in one’s busy life. An often-done meditation is the so called ‘tree meditation’, which is meant for grounding, and in which the meditator becomes a tree. The body becomes the bark of the tree; from the feet grow roots deep into the ground; the arms stretch out like branches that are strengthened by daylight. It’s an everyday example of the way in which we identify with trees. In the Amstelpark, everyday one can find groups meditating together between the trees of the former Floriade park. What do trees tell our subconscious in this location?

After having done further research I came across the world tree, the Yggdrasil, via the Axis Mundi. Originating from Norwegian and Icelandic mythology, it is the symbol of an endless ramification of all that is. According to tradition, the Yggdrasil is an enormous taxus carrying various worlds and beings in it. I am mainly interested in the world tree as the highest point in the cosmos, as the center of all directions and above all, the physical connection between the underworld, the human world and the upper world.

I see the project in the Amstelpark as an extension of my project in the Via Appia park, where I focus on a soil boring showcasing the different historical layers through geology. I see the tree as a positive boring, dealing with history in its own way. In the famous work ‘7000 oaks’ by Joseph Beuys I see a parallel. For the Documenta of 1982, he made a proposal for an artwork with 7000 oaks in the city, with a volcanic stone accompanying each tree. In the following years he completed the work until he died. In this work he borrows the anthroposophical ideas of Rudolph Steiner of the four cosmic concepts, and alludes to the slow transformation of basalt into an oak.

In the coming months, I am going to look for the Yggdrasil or world tree in the Amstelpark by making an audio work with mostly spoken word, which can be heard at different trees in the park. Furthermore, Norwegian mythology will play a role in the work, such as the myth of Daphne, who turns into a laurel before Apollo can violate her, or Cyparissus, who is turned into a cypress to grief for eternity over the deer that he killed. Using an app and headphones, the visitor will be able to navigate through the park and thus discover the microstories hidden in the world tree of the Amstelpark.

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.