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Jasper Coppes


& Via Appia Park


In the field of archaeology there has been a growing interest to consider this discipline as a critical engagement with the production of the past in the present. Strands such as the ‘Archaeology of the contemporary’ and the ‘Archaeology of the present’ are signs of this growing interest. Increasingly, the role of the archaeologist transforms from being the observer of a disconnected past towards becoming an immersed wanderer, actively creating future historical layers. The proposition I have been working with in the last years under the notion of the ‘archaeology of presence’ takes this view one step further. It acknowledges the influence of both human and non-human entities in the constitution of the eventual (artistic or archaeological) work. Both are engaged in the production of the present, and hence, the future. In my view, heritage parks such as the Appian Park are test-sites where such activities of future making are practiced. With my research project I want to investigate how my own artistic methodology, which includes both filmmaking, writing and sculptural intervention, can become a site where a new form of interspecies collaboration is rehearsed. Heritage can be considered as a practice of designing the future by actively preserving and dismantling the past. In this process we make distinctions between what is worth keeping and what we throw away. I will investigate how practices of collusion, contagion, contamination and collaboration problematize the distinction between heritage and waste.

Landscape architect Gilles Clément is a leading source of inspiration. His ‘third space’ points to those ‘abandoned’ sites, those disregarded waste-lands in which certain plants flourish that were not utilised for their nutrition or beauty or intentionally preserved. What would happen if such wastelands were considered our true (contemporary) heritage? The Appian Park could be the perfect site to investigate how non-human factors stretch the limits of our human designs of the past and future. I will spend two weeks in Rome to conduct survey walks in the park to establish an archaeology of presence: documenting the historical substrate that is still in process of being formed. I will look at remainders in a broad sense: what is left by humans and non-humans both in the distant past and the present. Remainders can be precious and worthless: ancient relics, traces of modernity, but also contemporary by-products of agricultural, horticultural or social activities. I will also look at how plant and animal species create their own respective remains: wild growth at the unmanaged edges of the park, and new species such as the (pet) parakeet or other exotic pests. But especially I will inquire into the way in which past and present are rehearsed by the interplay between humans and non-humans. I will document this ‘present archaeological layer’, in various ways. I will document the contemporary outlook of the park on film and writing, tracing how current activities of preservation and abandonment by humans and non-humans are shaping the future.
Curious to find out what other inhabitants of the park might have to say about its heritage, I went for a second visit to Rome to explore the Appian park through the eyes of an uncommon guide: for one entire day a bird trainer and me were hopping behind a more than handsome (and very large) crow. I was deeply inspired by Pier Paulo Pasolini’s film ‘uccellacci e uccellini’ (1966), translated as ‘Hawks and Sparrows’. In this brilliant allegorical stroll through life, the two main characters are chatting with a crow that is presented as ‘a left-wing intellectual of the kind found living before Palmiro Togliatti's death’. 
Hoewel we sympathiseerden met Pasolini’s poging om urgente ideologie in de mond te leggen van een niet-menselijk wezen, waren we toch benieuwd wat de kraai zelf over het onderwerp zou hebben gezegd – in zijn eigen taal.

Although we sympathised with Pasolini’s attempt to channel urgent ideology through the mouth of a non-human being, we were curious what the crow would have said about the matter himself - in his own language.

In continuation of this idea, we recorded our crow, 53 years after Pasolini’s film, in the same park – against the same backdrop. A landscape that has evidently changed by the forces and policies that Pasolini aimed to address. We recorded the crow’s caws, its coughs, cracking.

We listened to its grating coos, its rattles, and clicks. We also carefully noted its movements; any meaningful flapping of the wings, twists and turns of the head. These, we felt, were indicative of a clearly expressed and scholarly understanding of the environment. By keeping us focussed on the present, the crow showed us how the past is always embedded and continues to inform the world in which we live. 

We also understood – much like a theory that Pasolini developed about the poetic language of film – that of the language with which the crow communicated to us on this splendid day, we did not understand one word. Neither did we need to understand him. It was the act of listening that mattered – an attentive rehearsing of our relationship. 
Jasper Coppes (Amsterdam, 1983) is a visual artist who lives and works between Glasgow and Amsterdam. His films, sculptures and text-based works often investigate narratives that are imposed on, or inserted into, specific landscapes and other environments. Recent exhibitions include: 'Cabinet Interventions’ Glasgow International Festival, Glasgow (2018), ‘Flow Country’ Glasgow Short Film Festival, (2017), 'Roineabhal', Galerie van Gelder, Amsterdam (2015), ‘Delaying Tactics’, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow (2015).
Meer info zie: www.jaspercoppes.com