For (re)connecting.earth (02) - Beyond Water, Maria Thereza Alves presents Seeds of Change for the first time outdoors in Switzerland, a vast conceptual work that she has been developing since 1999 in various port cities. In it, the artist addresses issues of colonisation, slavery and ecology. In the installation A Garden of Ballast Flora: Geneva, a garden is set up on the outskirts of the port of Geneva (Molard), where ships once unloaded their cargo.
Ballast are at the heart of Maria Thereza Alves's work: earth, stones, sand, wood or bricks - any material that was economically expedient was used to stabilise merchant ships crossing the Atlantic. On arrival in port, this ballast was unloaded, carrying with it seeds from the region where it had been collected. More than 400 species of plants were brought over by the ships and grew on the ballast grounds all over New York, from where they then spread, accompanying the arrival of immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of ballast sometimes arrived every month, serving as dumping grounds throughout the city until the 1950s.
Topographical features, local characteristics and ecosystem relationships were literally crushed: rivers, marshes and swamps, considered an affront by the newcomers, were filled in and the hills levelled. Colonisation extended to the very earth of New York.
While the influx of Swiss immigrants was particularly great in the 1880s, some of the plants they brought with them became endemic to the ports from which Helvetian travellers left for New York, such as Antwerp, Hamburg, Bremen, Le Havre, Cherbourg and Rotterdam. Plants such as Matricaria chamomilla, Artemisia vulgaris and Symphytum officinale, presented in A Garden of Ballast Flora: Geneva, bear witness to the colonisation of the land of New York and the new responsibilities imposed by their upkeep in conjunction with the needs of the local flora. They are a living reminder that colonisation continues - and so decolonisation also must.
▶Artwork: Seeds of Change - A Garden of Ballast Flora: Geneva, 2023, Wood, earth, coir logs, selected plants (cf. list), Variable dimensions
▶ Venue: Débarcadère du Molard
▶ Scientific collaboration: Pro Natura Geneva, La Libellule, Alexandra Slotte