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Taking care of the park

Both in Rome in the Appian Park and in Amsterdam in the Amstelpark, I am talking to several people who take care of the park. In conversation with volunteers, park rangers and archaeologists, I focus on the act of caretaking, from the removal of plants to the restoration of ancient monuments in the parks.

Central to my project is the image of the Pietà; a mother who fulfilled her last duty of care. I was inspired by a visit to St. Peter’s basilica in Rome where Michelangelo's famous Pietà is showcased. What struck me were Mary’s hands; one grasping Jesus’s body firmly, her fingers pressed deeply into the skin. The other hand is open, opening up from Jesus, as if she is giving him to us. I take Mary’s paradoxical attitude as the starting point for my project: do you hold on to what is over or do you let go of it? Both the Appian Park and the Amstelpark have a past history that is worth preserving, but which simultaneously also takes a lot of effort to keep “alive”.

The Appian Park carries a turbulent history in the last 100 years. The park was used to illegally build houses and served as a dumping ground. In 1988 the park became an official park and marked the removal of the waste dump. Groups of volunteers are nowadays still active in the park, and mainly fight against the decay of the park and raise awareness among local residents. In my research, I observe this preservation by collaborating with various 'caretakers’. In the coming period I will search for the similarities and differences between the caretakers of both parks. Which act of Mary prevails: letting go or holding on?

In 2019 I will follow the caretakers with a camera, focussing on the movements of the hands. This video document closely observes and follows the actions of the caretakers and gardeners, and paints a picture of a modern-day Mary who tries to preserve the park which is slowly slipping from her hands.

Pavèl van Houten works together with philosopher Bastiaan Bervoets as well as with a diversity of park managers and volunteers of the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica and the Amstelpark.
Pavèl van Houten (1984, Bergen op Zoom) is a visual artist with a great interest in a mysticism coinciding with scientific research. In his projects, he investigates the methods with which people make the world logical or meaningful. According to Van Houten, it is the connections we make between each other and the things surrounding us that make our existence and our contacts interesting and meaningful. For example, he toured the Netherlands with ‘De Waardeloze Winkel’, a store where visitors could sell objects that completely lost their function, and set up Data Tours, a city walk that focused on things we normally overlook. He exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Mediamatic, Frans Hals Museum, Art Rotterdam and won the Dutch Design Award 2014 for his visual research into tree leaves at the Royal Zoo Artis.