‘Nature makes rocks, people make stones’ – Isamu Noguchi
Expected in 2020: Otherness
Exploring three timescales: The becoming, The being and The meanwhile. The becoming relates to the reference points of time and space in the becoming of what is now. The being relates to our perceptions of the present and the self in this process. The meanwhile targets at further appropriations for the future.
During the on-site field research called Onland (The becoming), I appropriated raw materials, which are now stored in the fridge (The being). I noticed a rather uncomfortable sensation, that I call the Breath of Soil(s), to be further explored for the public program in spring 2020 (The meanwhile).
Invitation Saturday September 28, 2019
Land in wording, no. 18 on the map of Amstelpark, Amsterdam (NL)
An artistic field research in the reciprocal relation of nature and culture, disruptions of time and matter and ethics of appropriations.
We usually explore a landscape horizontally. On Saturday afternoon, September 28, we explore the underground landscape vertically in an attempt to unravel different storylines and perceptions of time, nature and culture. An exercise in anticipation, of embodiment of time.
You are welcome to join.
In collaboration with AWN – Volunteers in Archeology The Hague, geologist Bert van der Valk (Deltares) and climate scientist Tanya Lippmann (VU) and with special thanks to all people involved.
This event takes place at the invitation of Exploded View, art and research into layered landscapes in transition. Exploded View is a collaborative project of CLUE + (Interfaculty Institute for Research of the Heritage and History of the Cultural Landscape and Urban Environment or VU University Amsterdam), In Principio Foundation (curator Krien Klevis) and Zone2Source (curator Alice Smit), platform for art, nature and technology at Amstelpark, Amsterdam. More: www.explodedview.net
28.09.2019: ONLAND, COLLECTING SEDIMENT CORES
Subsurface Landscape as Living Archive.
Deep Reading: ten meters and 6000 years of time-depth.
With special thanks to Bert van der Valk, Tanya Lippmann, AWN – Den Haag and Ko van Huissteden, VU.
Collected with the support of Hein de Jonge (hydrologist), Ronald Boer and Jonmar van Vlijmen (artists, Onkruidenier), Quinda Verheul (artist), Marijke Meester (designer, ArtEZ), Ruth Paine (volunteer Zone2Source), Theo Mahieu (photography), Alice Smit (director Zone2Source, Amstelpark, curator of Exploded View), Ruud Stuurman (permission, parkmanager Amstelpark) and all who visited, despite the rain. Real ‘swamp weather’ someone said.
16.09.2019 FIRST ARCHEOLOGICAL FIND AT LAND IN WORDING
An artifact as ‘index fossil’.
According to Bert van der Valk: Majolica shard of porridge bowl, part of the ear, with Haarlem curl, mid to 2nd half of the 17th century.
Parallel in time with the first mentioning of Amstelrust (1635).
Being able to actually touch time sparks the imagination.
Jacqueline Heerema develops an artistic program about time, as an exercise in anticipation, of embodiment of time.
We all have some notion of time and lifespan. But with the current discourses about deep time, deep earth, deep sky etc., we may get lost. The future is unforeseen. The so-called sixth extinction is the first that the human species experience, instigated by our own actions. There is no previous scenario we can relate to, no referential guideline to follow. We are still in the process of trying to figure out what to do.
However, we can target at understanding the near foreseen future. By embracing change, combining nature-induced and human-induced historical processes into a mapping of the near foreseen future that we can perceive, Heerema targets at different ways of seeing and being and explores three timescales: The becoming, The being and The meanwhile.
The becoming relates to the reference points of time and space in the becoming of what is now.
The being relates to our perceptions of the present and the self in this process.
The meanwhile targets at further appropriations for the future.
Part 1: The becoming of Land in wording
At the intersection of palaeontology, geology and archaeology, the place we perceive now as Land in Wording at Amstelpark has a long subsurface history. Going back in time, the sediments deposited by wind, water (sea and rivers) and ice (glaciers) and more recently human-induced layers (dikes, polders, sand subsidence for the making of Buitenveldert, soil deposits for the making of Amstelpark, etc.), we get a vertical impression of the now, the notion of transitional processes and the relational self.
Spirit of the times
People cherish an idea of what nature is and what the world should look like; our environment is adapted to that image. We manipulate biotopes and habitats and interfere with living, once-living and non-living ecosystems. We design parks, zoos and aquariums.
But how natural is this nature?
Following years of art and heritage projects on time, people and environment and rethinking perceptions of culture and nature, in the city, the sea, coastal landscapes, polders, mud flats, Afsluitdijk and abroad, my current fascination is swamp, also called wetlands, marsh, bog, moor or wild land. A transitional ecology between land and water that is both land and water.
Wetlands play an important role in the social and landscape history and future of the Netherlands. Peat was mined for salt and fossil fuel, dry-milled for agricultural polders, farms relocated due to waterlogging and the resulting landscape has become heritage. Today, wetlands are again valued as an important ecosystem with regard to climate change and biodiversity. Peat marshes are re-cultivated on various locations and dry-milled polders are flooded again.
This project is about a constructed marsh called Land in wording, freely translated as Land to be, Land in the Making, Land in Progress or Land in the Becoming. Built for the horticultural show called Floriade 1972 between the pond and the Amstelrust country estate (Amsteldijk 319, on the river Amstel) in the current Amstelpark in Amsterdam.
According to the Amstelpark website: “In this nature area, nature can take its course as far as possible without human intervention. This part of the park is still an original piece of land from before the Floriade.”
This romantic description – as a form of staged authenticity– made me curious and helped by various experts and with different sources I started with a reconstruction of the history of this swamp. It has become a rich story about ‘relocated nature’, where everything comes from elsewhere and was / is subject to the prevailing spirit of the times and interpretations of shifting cultural and natural values, whether or not of natural origin.
The geological deep subsurface has been investigated many times, but I am particularly interested in the anthrosol, according to the WUR description: “soils that have been formed or profoundly modified through long-term human activities, such as addition of organic materials or household wastes, irrigation or cultivation.”
According to my reconstruction of no.18 Land in wording, Amstelpark Amsterdam (including assumptions):
The reclamation of Amstelland started in the 12th – 13th centuries. The peat landscape is dewatered for the Binnendijkse Buitenvelderse Polder, with farms and the resulting so-called ‘succession’ landscape (in Dutch called Slagenlandschap). Around 1635 the Amstelrust country estate is mentioned. Amstelrust is successively a country estate, a nursery for plants and trees, has various garden designs and becomes a sports park. The area has retained its rural character until the mid-20th century.
Around 1955, the urban expansion Buitenveldert (including the current Amstelpark) is being prepared with an increase of 2 to 2.5 meters of sand from the Nigtenveld – Nederhorst den Berg sand extraction pit.
In 1971, the municipality of Amsterdam acquires (exchanges) half the grounds of Amstelrust for the construction of Floriade 1972. Land in wording is made at this location.
According to the exhibition catalog at the start of the Floriade: “This ‘instructive garden’ shows some natural and semi-natural vegetation in a way that corresponds as much as possible to the image we have of free nature.”
In retrospect, after the Floriade it is described as “relocated nature”, “so that everyone can see where everything comes from”. For the construction of this wetland, the sand was compacted to raise the water level, peat soil from the Bijlmer and reed and marsh sod from Kortenhoef were used.
In 2019 the story goes that the birches on Land in wording have grown there spontaneously and nothing has been planted. According to the interactive Tree Map of Amsterdam, a tree was planted in Land in the making in 1943 (oak) and 1952 (maple), but many trees, including the current birches (Betula pubencens), were planted after the Floriade.
The sound of tree saws is deafening.
A Koi carp swims by, an exotic species in Dutch water.
A very special and unexpected contribution to the exhibition program ‘Climate as Artifact’ – curated by Satellietgroep in 2018 – was VC17.
A sediment core of the soil underneath the North Sea.
With special thanks to Tanya Lippmann (VU), dr. Freek Busschers, Pieter van der Klugt and Sieb de Vries (TNO, Deltares).
According to Tanya Lippmann, climate scientist (VU):
Peat growth and development is highly dependent on climate. Therefore, peat deposits (“basisveen”) submerged beneath the North Sea are a proxy for climatic change. Recently, during a marine cruise on the North Sea, a team of scientists (from Royal NIOZ Sea Research, TNO, Deltares, Utrecht University and VU University Amsterdam) drilled several sediment cores containing peat deposits. This is one of the retrieved cores. This core (VC17) was retrieved in order to further understand the transition from the last glacial period into the Holocene (onset c. 11,700 cal yr BP).
Marine sands sit above the peat. The peat material is easily identified by its light brown colour. The changes in colour and ‘stripes’ signify changes in vegetation type and growth rate. This particular peat is composed of Sphagnum moss. It has been preserved beneath the sea floor in an oxygen free environment. Thereby, preventing decomposition.
This work will contribute to understanding the climate variability in the Early Holocene and the development and botanical succession of peat ecosystems in general.
Scientists aim to reconstruct past vegetation change over time, based on plant macrofossil analysis, in different areas of the North Sea including the Doggers Bank, a submerged island that was home to prehistoric humans. Not only does the project aim to understand how peat transitions from one peat type to another but whether there is methane being produced by microorganisms living in the peat.
THE CULTURE OF NATURE
Inspiration #2: human-mediated dispersal
While co-developing the art project called ‘Gardening without borders – Tuinieren zonder grenzen’ (2017) for the Oerol Festival at the Dutch wadden island Terschelling, I learned about human-mediated dispersals (in Dutch antropochoor transport): human activities are responsible for the translocation of vast amounts of organisms. We disperse species by moving from one place to another; often unintentionally, for instance by attending a cultural island festival.
On my way to Terschelling, I had a meeting at KNAW (Royal Dutch Academy of Science) as I was nominated for a residency at NIAS (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences). I brought with me a collection of Sphagnum moss and put it on the library table as a conversation piece.
Inspiration #3: ethics of appropriations
An ethical dilemma or “seagrass mimics”?
On the island of Ibiza (2019), I picked up a strand of Posidonia Oceanica on the beach. Living seagrass, indicator of the quality of water. From the underwater prairies of the Mediterranean, that are protected as Unesco World Heritage since 1999. As a real tourist I decided to appropriate a souvenir and adopted this Posidonia. I filled a plastic juice bottle from the supermarket with sea water. Together with organic sediments and plastic particles, my Posidonia traveled back to the Netherlands. I ignored customs regulations, that prohibit the export of living species to prevent the spread of (invasive) species. A fine example of an intentional illegal human-mediated dispersal. Driven by a romantic and naive vision of a Wadden Sea with a Posidonia Plantation. Once at home, I put the bottle on my work table in the sunlight and forgot about it. After a few weeks I was shocked to see that the sea water had turned green. My rescue attempt with replacement North Sea water was not to the benefit of my Posidonia. Through my arrogant and anthropocentric action, I created an ethical dilemma: I killed a plant.
Back home I learn that Zeegrasherstel (restoring seagrass) is in process in the Wadden Sea. Remarkable, as the Wadden Sea is designated natural Unesco World Heritage, thus excluding human activities.