Maria Thereza Alves

Recipes for Survival
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Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden, 2012 - 2016

commission work: Bristol City Council in conjunction with Arnolfini Gallery 2012 - 2016 (solo project)

The history of Bristol sprouts along its port. A flora written by the botanist Cecil I. Sandwith mentions sites where plants from North America, Africa and continental Europe have been found on ballast which was unloaded in Wapping Quay, Grove Quay, and between Avonmouth and Shirehampton.

 Ballast such as sand, stones, earth, bricks and whatever else was economically expedient and easily available would be especially needed with light weight cargo which could leave the ship floating dangerously above its water-line and therefore liable to capsize or as a result of uneven distribution of variously weighted cargo which might cause the ship to tilt to one side. Along with the ballast which was picked up in any port of any of the trade partners in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and other European countries, seeds accidentally came and were unloaded in port upon arrival. Some sprouted and grew and became part of the English landscape.

Through local archives Alves located ballast sites, removed samples of earth from these sites, germinated the seeds in the sample and researched historical records for mention of ballast flora.

In 2007, Alves presented Seeds of Change:Bristol at the Arnolfini Gallery with a proposal for a Ballast Garden which would exhibit historical ballast flora while serving as a public forum for active investigations and participation in the history of Bristol between its residents (some originally from the ports that trade with Bristol) and the scientific community who can collaborate in identifying the ballast flora which have arrived in Bristol from around the world and their contributions along with other non-endemic plants in the development of the English landscape.

In 2012, Alves was commissioned by Bristol City Council to make a ballast garden on a disused barge in Bristol's Harbour. A five-year program was organized with scientists, artists, musicians, preformers and writers on the Floating Ballast Seed Garden.

The 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 are witnesses to, previously isolated from their intimate connection to the economic and social history of Bristol. 

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