Maria Thereza Alves

Seeds of Change - A Garden of Ballast Flora: Groot Begijnhof University Centre

In her large-scale investigative project Seeds of Change, artist Maria Thereza Alves unearths historical ballast sites and ballast flora in the port cities of Marseille, Reposaari, Dunkirk, Exeter, Liverpool, Bristol, New York, and Antwerp.

Earth, stones, sand, wood, bricks and whatever else was economically expedient was used as ballast to stabilize merchant sailing ships according to the weight of the cargo. Upon arrival in port, the ballast was unloaded, carrying with it seeds native to the area where the ballast had been picked up. These seeds may germinate and grow, potentially bearing witness to a far more complex narrative of world history than is usually presented by orthodox accounts. Although they have the potential to alter our notions of the identity of place as belonging to a defined bioregion, the historical importance of these seeds is rarely acknowledged. Seeds of Change is designed to question those discourses that define the geographical and ‘natural’ history of place: At what moment do seeds become ‘native’? What are the socio-political histories of place that determine the framework of belonging?

The botanist, Dr. Heli Jutila, writes: “Although seeds seem to be dead, they are in fact alive and can remain vital in soil for decades, and even hundreds of years in a state of dormancy.” Some of these seeds have already germinated; others, given the right conditions, still retain the potential to germinate.

During the Artefact festival, Maria Thereza Alves presented documentation and research material of previous iterations of Seeds of Change in the exhibition Parallel Crossings. In the heart of this presentation lay the promise of a ballast garden in the Groot Begijnhof in Leuven; a garden planted with ballast flora. Between May 24 and October 12, 2019, the visitor of the Groot Begijnhof can witness the blooming of these plants and flowers in a complex and historical spectacle that plays into Belgian colonial history and the history of the port of Antwerp.

Pictures © Joeri Thiry / STUK - House for Dance, Image & Sound

This new iteration of Seeds of Change and the Ballast Garden is a STUK-KU Leuven co-production, created in the context of the ARTEFACT festival 2019. It was developed in collaboration with Elisa Strinna and Filip Verloove (Plantentuin Meise). Special thanks to Christina Seyfried (KU Leuven Culture Office), Prof. dr. Marc Vervenne (President of the Groot Begijnhof Leuven), the Technical services of KU Leuven (Stefaan Saeys, Johan Verheyden, Mich Verderwegen and Peter van der Auweraer), Poi Verwilt (Faculty Greenhouses), Thomas Gyselinck (Department Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity Conservation) and the students of KU Leuven Green Office.

Fri 24 May 2019 14:00 - Sat 12 Oct 2019
Fri 24 May 2019 14:00 - Sat 12 Oct 2019
Sat 25 May 2019 0:00 - Sat 12 Oct 2019


Groot Begijnhof Leuven

Extra info

24 MAY - 12 OCT 2019

Open throughout, with respect for the private character of this KU Leuven University residential area.