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Wouter Osterholt

Growing Resistance
Una Forza del Passato

& Via Appia Park


Growing Resistance

An environmental emergency drill in the Amstelpark, Amsterdam

The Amstelpark was built for the 1972 Floriade gardening exhibition and aimed to promote the horticulture industry. At the time, the Floriade was conceived as a popular attraction but there was also criticism, for example by the action group 'De lastige Amsterdammer' (The Troublesome Amsterdammer), who described the exhibition as "Poen-Groen (Green Money) behind a fence on the edge of a city that is uninhabitable to many". They believed that the subsidy (5 million guilders) could have been used differently, for example by improving the livability of the city center. It was a criticism that reflected the changing spirit of the times. The sixties and seventies were characterized by an increasing awareness for the environment and the problem of pollution, which was fueled by the alarming report of the Club of Rome, 'The Limits to Growth' from 1972. In that same year at the Floriade, little attention was paid to this new environmental awareness. Instead, a more conservative approach was preferred.

Much has changed since the hype of the Floriade, but some of the aspects are still characteristic for the Amstelpark; which closes at night, protected by a fence, to preserve its vulnerable archaic landscape from outside hazards. Cycling is not allowed and the supervision of the park rangers ensure that nobody leaves the beaten path. The management is taken so seriously that artists that want to work in the park are forbidden to attach objects on the ground or on trees. The entire park is protected as if it is a rare object in a museum. The project 'Growing Resistance' temporarily disrupts this false sense of security, by allowing a fictitious threat, in the form of an urban development for which all trees need to be cut. In this apocalyptic scenario, a protest is organized by local residents and other stakeholders. The idea is to make a documentary of what this would look like, based on actions against large-scale deforestation and local tree felling in the Netherlands during the last 50 years.

The reenactments will be performed in collaboration with a local theater group at different locations throughout the park. Prior to the production of the film, an archive will be made of the many protest actions that took place in the Netherlands in recent years. This extensive collection will serve as source material for the staged situations. On the basis of interviews (mostly from regional television stations) the script will be compiled in which the found footage is reconstructed word by word.

'Growing Resistance' is a visual investigation into the aesthetics of protest throughout the years; from small improvised actions of emotional citizens to large and well-orchestrated manifestations of political parties. The felling of trees seem to have become a hot topic in provincial and municipal politics. The threatened tree as a political subject works as a catalyst for the anxiety of the angry citizen in a rapidly changing world, where climate change is often a rather abstract and invisible phenomenon, while a tree offers a tangible link with the (endangered) natural world.

Via Appia Park

Una Forza del Passato (A Force from the Past)

An archaeological excavation of the Borghetto Latino in the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica, Rome

After the war, the city of Rome grew substantially, as one of the driving forces behind the "Italian economic miracle", which led to an unregulated urban growth. In a relative short period, many informal neighborhoods emerged on the outskirts of the city, such as the Borghetto Latino in Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica. Life in the Borghetto Latino was difficult, hundreds of families lived in miserable conditions amongst the many ancient ruins in the park. In 1969 the residents of the Borghetto organized a protest, which formed the beginning of the official expropriation of the area in 1973 and was preceded by an occupation of three buildings in the center of the city. The Borghetto Latino was the first 'shantytown' in Rome that got cleared, whereby its inhabitants were relocated to better housing facilities. In the 1970s, many more informal neighborhoods followed and the living conditions of thousands of people improved significantly. The protest was a key moment in the history of the Italian housing movement and formed a crucial step in the formation of the Via Appia Antica park. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the political manifestation in the Borghetto Latino. But in contrast to the well-documented ancient history, there is very little that reminds people of the recent past. There is not a single monument or information panel that commemorates the story of the Borghetto or the revolutionary revolt that took place. Nowadays, the Caffarella park is an idyllic landscape with many ancient ruins, as if time has stood still for centuries.

The aim of the project 'Una Forza del Passato' is to bring attention to the forgotten history of the Borghetto Latino and to test to what extent the site is recognized as part of the shared cultural heritage. What do people (residents and visitors of the park) remember of the life in the neighborhood and how did the removal of the Borghetto Latino influence the development of the Via Appia park? Given the current problems concerning the informal Roma and migrant camps in the city, it does not seem to be an unnecessary luxury to have people reminded of the successes of the housing movement from the last century. Why was the housing movement in the 1970s able to pressure politicians to find structural solutions for the housing problems and why isn't the same thing happening today for the people living in the new shanty towns?

Research phase: The excavation
The research period took place from the 15th until the 26th of April 2019. Together with architecture students from the Roma Tre University (Arinanna Borri, Flavia Brunori, Simone Franchellucci, Maria García de Vicente, Roberta Loiacono, Antonio Belmonte en Marica Loparco) and with students of the Accademia di Belle Arti (Marco Eusepi, Marzio Mereggia en Gaia Bobò) we made a start with the mapping of the remains of the Borghetto Latino. The site of excavation is located along the Via Latina, northeast of the Caffarella park. For two weeks we did an extensive site survey and documented all the different findings, such as fundaments, tile flooring and doorsteps. We kept the area publicly accessible and did not install any barrier tape or fences. Because of this people could visit the excavation site and sometimes even walk straight over the newly excavated remains. In regular archeological projects this would be unacceptable but in our case it proved to be a perfect method to get into contact with passersby.

Whenever someone showed interest in our work we would ask this person three simple questions. First we wanted to see if they knew what these remains were. Secondly we would ask them if they had ever heard of the Borghetto Latino and if yes, what kind of stories they could tell about the place. At the end of each conversation we asked the interviewees if they thought it would be a good idea to install an information panel on site, as seen at all the other historical sites in the park.

All conversations, that took place in Italian, were recorded and interesting fragments were selected and transcribed. Together with the field drawings this information will now be used for the design of a large scale archeological illustration (copperplate engraving), based on the so-called 'fragment' series of Piranesi, in which he systematically combined different archeological findings in speculative reconstructions and collages. With these prints, Piranesi tried to link the individual elements in order to create a coherent narrative out of the chaotic and fragmented past. The illustration for the 'Una Forza del Passato' project will be constructed following a similar approach by merging the different field drawings together in one archeological illustration that will be exhibited during the exhibitions in Rome and Amsterdam. Finally, the print will be displayed on an information panel in the park, as a (temporary) monument in commemoration of the Borghetto Latino. The revealing of the panel in the park will be another public moment for which I want to invite all the participants of the project. During this 'inauguration' event I will give a talk and explain the motivation behind the work. Furthermore I will invite several guest speakers who are asked to elaborate on the project from different perspectives and disciplines.

Alongside the preparations for both of the exhibitions in Rome and Amsterdam, I'm planning to work towards a more ambitious proposal. The field research revealed that there are still many remains hidden under the surface. Also the all the positive feedback that we got during the fieldwork shows that there is a shared need to continue the excavation. I now consider the 'Una Forza del Passato' project as a first step in an attempt to develop a more permanent archeological park or outdoor exhibition, dedicated to the history of the Borghetto Latino. The coming months I will develop this idea further and possibly present it in the context of the upcoming exhibitions.

The project is supported by Prof. dr. Gert-Jan Burgers (VU-Chair in Mediterranean archaeology and director of CLUE+). en Prof. Maya Segarra Lagunes (Architecture department / Roma Tre University).
Berlin-based artist Wouter Osterholt (1979, Leiden) got his bachelor degree in Fine Arts at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in 2001. His work is site and context specific and manifests itself along the faultlines and breaking points of our (political) landscape where social injustice, conflicts or problems come to light. He often uses the method of recontextualization of existing material, such as buildings, monuments, sculptures, rituals or archival material. These appropriations or reconstructions are a way to question and problematize the focus on exclusivity within our capitalist society and to declare them as part of a larger public discussion in which individuals are challenged to express their personal relationship to the political. Osterholt was artist-in-residence at the White House in London (UK), Townhouse Gallery in Cairo (EG), the MAK Center in Los Angeles (US), Capacete in Rio de Janeiro (BR), IASKA in Perth (AU), at PIST in Istanbul (TR), and more. He exhibited works at The Mosaic Rooms (UK), Frisian Museum (NL), the 13th Istanbul Biennial (TR), the Townhouse Gallery (EG), Schunck* in Heerlen (NL), etc.