research narratives in artistic ecology
A unique aspect of German soil protection policy is the protection of soil on account of its archival function. After World War II over 75 million cubic meters of rubble and debris almost completely covered the city of Berlin. Mountains of stone, brick and dust had to be cleared, sorted into recyclable and non-recyclable material, and moved to suitable storage and dumping sites before the city could begin rebuilding. This work was famously accomplished by women, usually in exchange for food and shelter.
Today some of the city’s most frequented and beloved public parks hide the material remnants of pre-war Germany. Humboldthain, Volkspark Friedrichshain and the largest “rubble mountain” Teufelsberg confront recreation seekers with massive grass and tree-lined ghosts of the past. Scratching only a few centimeters of topsoil from the surface may reveal shards of colored tiles and bits of bricks of all shapes and sizes. More problematic is the slow leaching of sulfate from tons of buried mortar into the groundwater system. The rubble mountains of Berlin and elsewhere across Europe are thus not only a focus of cultural discourses on soil and memory, but a real and growing technological and ecological challenge.
Science Meets Art in the Altes Museum Berlin-Neukölln, September 2010
Prof. Dr. Gerd Wessolek, Dept. of Soil Protection TU-Berlin
In the week long retreat-style workshop Science Meets Art in the Altes Museum Berlin-Neukölln, Gerd Wessolek and I brainstormed on an installation concept for visualizing soil memory in terms of ongoing research on sulfate leaching in the Dept. of Soil Protection.
The impromptu installation at the Altes Museum consisted of a floor map of Berlin’s waterways with rubble covering the entire area. Nine large glass test tubes corresponded to the highest amounts of rubble deposition in the city, marking for example, city parks and forested dumping sites. A research desk in the opposite corner presented materials on post WWII reconstruction, rubble management, and sulfate leaching. Long yellow curtains concealed the outside world, shedding a golden glow over the space to symbolize the color of sulfur but also defeat and triumph in war.