A Site of Walking and Learning
Relli de Vries and Dr. Dafna Langgut
The artwork "Pollen" responds to Herod's original gardens and Dr. Dafna Langgut's archaeobotanical research, which identifies ancient vegetation through fossil pollens.
The garden in Caesarea, for example, was carved in limestone on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Herodian gardens expressed imperial aspirations by importing and implanting vegetation from across the empire and integrating it with local flora. The garden was designed to demarcate an empire, to appropriate a physical sphere and impose upon it a logic not entirely its own.
In my work, I seek neither to reconstruct the garden nor to immortalize it. Instead, I aim to dismantle its original components and restructure them into a composition that processes the botanical, architectural, geopolitical and ecological themes that animate the garden.
The grass that surrounds the construction site has not been mowed since the works commenced. In the past year, we allowed it to revert to a wild field that encompasses weeds, wildflowers and plants. These fertilized themselves, "crawled" towards the garden's construction site and joined the cultivated plants identified by Dafna.
Although the vegetation was planted, its presence does not signify the power and structure that it did for Herod. These plants "overcome" the past, emerging from it to emblematize their own power and not that of coercion. Their presence in the garden is geared to generate a fresh discussion on the relationship in which human practices and nature's actions intertwine in unexpected and uncontrolled ways.
The raw elements of the garden – stone and shrub – stand side by side as in a construction site, united in the cycle of creation and destruction. Together, they create a mirror that reflects imperial building that sought to subdue the forces of nature – construction that remains visible today on the kings’ roads and in Roman aqueducts.
In this work, I created a garden of investigation and learning that invites the viewer to stroll from above. The site expresses the existential drama of changes that have occurred and those that are predicted to occur in the relationship between humans and nature. Although I address the historical links to the Herodian garden, I am aware of the location of my artwork: on a limestone hill, inside Tel Aviv University, which was partially built on the lands of the Arab village Al-Shaykh Muwannis, and above all the layers that preceded it. We don’t know exactly who lived here or what is buried beneath, yet the components of the surroundings were used to establish a new place, to enhance a sense of historical belonging.
I use the original historical site to tell a contemporary story, perhaps a dramatic one, through the relationships between the elements of the space – similarly to a research site of unraveled representations. Into these relationships, I codified terms of representational gardens, specifically those of Herod. I allowed myself to rove in the histories of past gardens, similar to the traditions the Roman garden inherited from the Greek and Egyptian cultures, and as it was later translated and echoed in the Renaissance.
Through the medium of gardens, I hope to highlight the forces that "motivate" a garden, its meanings as a site in which humans become its "student". The site is thus multivalent; meant for relaxation, but also for practicing observation and awareness.
Dr. Dafna Langgut Archaeobotany (Tel Aviv University), researches botanical remains at archaeological sites to restore ancient vegetation and climate.
In the exhibition there is a microscope with an example of Pollen and Dr. Langotte's lab booklet.
Pollen Garden Booklet
Relli de Vries
Three-dimension film, length: 2 minutes
Animation: Michael Sokolov
Sound: Roni Hajaj
Courtesy of the artist