Seeds dumped hundreds of years ago are brought back to life
SEEDS from all parts of the globe which have lain dormant at the bottom of Bristol docks – in some cases, for hundreds of years – have been brought back to life in a unique art project.
The seeds were 'incidental cargo' on sailing ships which brought their goods to Bristol in the days when the city was a major European port.
Between 1680 and the early 1900s, ballast in ships – earth, stones and gravel used to weigh down vessels for their journeys – was dumped into the river or onto the quayside at Bristol. This ballast contained the seeds of plants from wherever the ship had sailed.
Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves discovered that ballast seeds can lie dormant for hundreds of years but that, by excavating the river bed, it is still possible to germinate and grow them into flourishing plants.
Working with experts from Bristol University's Botanic Garden, the Arnolfini and the city council, she has utilised a disused grain barge to create a floating ballast seed garden, populated with a variety of non-native plants and therefore providing a living history of the city's trade and maritime past.
The floating garden has been designed by German designer Gitta Gschwendtner to allow people to walk, sit and observe the plants.
The barge was refurbished and the garden built with the support of the Arnolfini and with the assistance of the Avon and Somerset Probation Trust Community Payback team.
Arnolfini's director, Tom Trevor said: "Maria Thereza Alves' project began in 2007 as part of the large-scale Arnolfini exhibition, Port City.
"The concept of a garden of ballast flora, as a kind of living history of Bristol's trade, is a brilliant idea and something many people from all walks of life can relate to.
"2007 was the 200th anniversary of the parliamentary abolition of the slave trade in the UK, but what Maria Thereza's project reminds us is that the traces of all the city's histories are still present today, and it is important that we are aware of what has happened in the past so that we can determine a fair and just society in the future.
"It is great that this project has been acknowledged as part of the Cultural Olympiad".
Cabinet Councillor Anthony Negus said: "The garden serves as a unique and powerful living testimony to Bristol's maritime past."
The barge is moored in the Floating Harbour next to Castle Park and near to Bristol Bridge.
It was a derelict vessel and due to be towed away for scrap but this project has given the barge a new lease of life.
Visits are being arranged by the city council public arts department which commissioned the project. They are free but booking is essential. The number is 9223064.
Three talks have also been arranged. More details from the Arnolfini on 9172300.
The £25,000 project has been funded by the Ashley, Easton and Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Partnership, with support from the Arnolfini, Ramboll UK Ltd, a structural engineering firm which provided its services free of charge, University of Bristol BotanicGarden and Avon and Somerset Probation Trust Community Payback team in which offenders undertake work in the community.
The Cultural Olympiad is a nationwide summer-long arts festival to celebrate the Olympic Games in London.
Maria Thereza Alves, 51, is one of the co-founders of the Green Party in Brazil and lives in Berlin and Rome.