Pavèl van Houten

The work of Pavèl van Houten is part of Exploded View

Take care of the park

Both in Rome in the Parco Via Appia Antica, and in Amsterdam in the Amstelpark, I am talking to various people who take care of the park. In conversations with volunteers, park rangers and archaeologists, I focus on the actions people take to take care of the park. This can range from the extraction of plants to the restoration of ancient monuments. Central to my project is the image of the Pieta; a mother who fulfills her last duty of care. I was inspired by the visit to St. Peter’s in Rome where Michelangelo’s most famous Pieta is. What struck me were her hands; the one who grasps Jesus firmly; her fingers pressed deep into the skin. She holds the other hand open, apart from Jesus, as if she is giving it to us. I take Maria’s paradoxical attitude as the starting point for my project: do you hold on to that which is over or do you let go? Both the Via Appia Park and the Amstelpark have a past history that is worth preserving, but at the same time also costs effort to keep it “alive”.

The Via Appia Park has had a turbulent history over the past 100 years. For example, the park was used to build houses illegally and served as a dumping ground. It was not until 1988 that the park became an official park and wildlife and landfill was prevented. Large groups of volunteers are still active in the park, who mainly fight against the decline of the park and are raising awareness among the residents. In my research I observe this conservation by cooperating with various ‘caretakers’ and gardeners. In the coming period I will look for the similarities and differences between the caretakers from two parks. Which act of Mary dominates: to let go or to keep it?

In 2019 I will follow the caregivers with a camera, with a focus on the movements that the hands make. This video document becomes a restrained observation that closely follows the actions and paints a picture of a contemporary Mary who tries to preserve the park in all its power, but who slowly slips out of her hands. Pavèl van Houten collaborates with philosopher Bastiaan Bervoets and various park managers and volunteers from the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica and Amstelpark



Pavèl van Houten (1984, Bergen op Zoom) is a visual artist with a great interest in the mystique of scientific research. In his projects he studies methods with which people make the world logical or meaningful. According to Van Houten, it is the connections we make between each other and the things that make our existence and our contacts interesting and meaningful. For example, he toured the Netherlands with the Worthless Shop, a shop where visitors could sell objects that had completely lost their function, and he founded Data Tours, a city walk that reflected on things that we normally overlook. He has exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Mediamatic, Frans Hals Museum, Art Rotterdam and won the Dutch Design Award 2014 for his visual research into tree leaves at the Artis Zoo.

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