Seeds of Change: Floating Ballast Seed Garden
‘Seeds of Change’ is the overall title of an ongoing ballast seed garden project from Brazillian artist Maria Thereza Alves. Between 1680 and the early 1900’s ships’ ballast – earth, stones and gravel from trade boats from all over the world used to weigh down the vessel as it docked- was offloaded into the river at Bristol. This ballast contained the seeds of plants from wherever the ship had sailed. Maria Thereza Alves discovered that these ballast seeds can lie dormant for hundreds of years, but that by excavating the river bed, it is possible to germinate and grow these seeds into flourishing plants.
Maria Thereza Alves (Design: Gitta Gschwendtner)
Working with the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, Arnolfini and Bristol City Council and utilising a disused grain barge, Maria Thereza Alves has created a Ballast Seed Garden on Bristol’s Floating Harbour, populated with a variety of non-native plants, creating a living history of the city’s trade and maritime past.
The floating garden has been designed by German designer Gitta Gschwendtner to create a contemplative architectural space to walk, sit and observe the plants, with specialist advice from Nick Wray at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden and Lucy Empson at Bristol City Council. Structural engineering advice from Ramboll; plants courtesy of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden; construction by Arnolfini with the assistance of the Avon and Somerset Probation Trust Community Payback team.
Location: Floating Harbour (north side) between Bristol Bridge and Castle Park
water taxi stop.
Access: Visible from Castle Park or on boat by appointment. Call 0117 922 3064 for further information.
Twitter Page: https://twitter.com/ArnolfiniArts
Ballast flora is a category of plants that has become part of the English landscape. It refers to the product of seeds which were brought to this country in the ballast on ships, particularly between the 18th and early 20th century when it was commonly used in mercantile shipping. Ballast generally consisted of sand, stone, earth, pebbles, shells or other cheap materials that came to hand, which was used to balance ships if their cargo was too lightweight. Arriving in port the ballast was unloaded (often clandestinely to avoid taxes), and with it came seeds from all around the world. These ‘ballast seeds’ can sometimes lie dormant for hundreds of years in the port.
Seeds of Change Bristol
Maria Thereza Alves was invited to come to Bristol in 2007 to develop a project for the Group show Port City at Arnolfini. During this period Alves researched the sites where ballast would have been off-loaded around the Floating Harbour and along the Avon River, digging up samples of earth in which seeds might lie dormant. With the help of local individuals and groups (many of whom have family links to the port cities Bristol traded with), these seeds were germinated. The resulting array of plants, which were grown up from these small plots of the local terrain, could thus be seen as a living embodiment of the port’s history of trade, reflecting the different routes travelled by Bristol merchants worldwide. Alves says, “Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden is an attempt to re-establish the histories of complexities of ballast flora and the potential of individual histories that these plants were witness to, previously isolated from their intimate connection to the economic and social history of Bristol.”
Maria Thereza Alves
Maria Thereza Alves has recently exhibited in the Lyon Biennale, Guangzhou Triennale, Manifesta in Trento, the Prague Biennale and the Berlin Film Festival. Other selected exhibits include: Michel Rein Galerie in Paris, RAM in Rome, Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, Fondazione Sandretto in Torino, Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, Kunsthalle in Basel, San Francisco Art Institute, Ursula Walbröl Gallery in Düsseldorf, PAC in Milano, NBK in Berlin, Musée Portuaire in Dunkirk, Liverpool Biennale, Palais Tokio in Paris, Culturegest in Lisbon, Werkleitz Biennale, Steirischer Herbst in Graz, Boxx in Brussels, Beursschouwburg in Brussels, Central Space Gallery in London, New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Temistocles 44 in Mexico City, Casa del Lago in Mexico City, La Estacion Gallery in Cuernavaca, Bienal de Habana, and Kenkeleba House in New York.
Born in Germany in 1972, Gitta Gschwendtner moved to London in the early nineties to study design at Central Saint Martins, Kingston University and the Royal College of Art. Following graduation from the RCA furniture MA in 1998 she set up her independent design studio in London working on a diverse range of projects ranging from product, interior and exhibition design to public art installations for arts, cultural and corporate clients. Gitta’s studio focuses on conceptually rigorous, visually intriguing, functional design across several disciplines.
Other clients include British Council, Crafts Council, Design Museum, DuPont Corian, Geffrye Museum, Habitat, Innermost, Mathmos, Peugeot, Purves & Purves, Royal College of Art, Science Museum, Sony, Twentytwentyone, Victoria and Albert Museum and Wellcome Trust.
Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden was part of the London 2012 Festival, a spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration from 21 June and running until 9 September 2012 bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK. For further information see: www.london2012.com/festival
Bristol City Council
Bristol City Council
Ashley, Easton & Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Partnership, Ramboll, University of Bristol, University of Bristol Botanic Garden, Bristol Parks, Bristol Harbour Authority
Ashley, Easton & Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Partnership, Bristol Harbour Authority, Bristol Parks, Ramboll, University of Bristol Botanic Garden, University of Bristol