De Onkruidenier. Foto: Marleen Annema
De Onkruidenier. Foto: Marleen Annema ©

Onkruidenier: learning from the smallest extremophiles

What does a landscape want to become? And how can we adept to its changing circumstances? A conversation with Rosanne van Wijk and Ronald Boer from artist collective the Onkruidenier. On salt-inclusive thinking, adapting to the water and what we can learn from micro-organisms that can survive under extreme circumstances. This interview is a warm-up for the event Artistic Fieldwork: Mud, Myths and Swamps on Thursday 16 March (17:00 – 19:00 hrs) at Amsterdam Science Park. 

On a barren piece of land, weeds are the pioneering plants whose seeds are the first to arrive at the scene. They are flown in by the wind, and soon, the weeds start to inhabit the meanwhile spaces and wastelands in the city. Artist collective the Onkruidenier has been pioneering since 2013 with training sessions and performances on the intersection of landscape architecture, visual arts, science and ecology. It was founded by Jonmar van Vlijmen, and consists additionally of Ronald Boer and Rosanne van Wijk.

‘The Netherlands has a very rational and cognitive way of planning, in order to get a sense of control over the water, the soil and the nitrogen dynamics,’ says Rosanne. The Dutch history is inextricably related to the water, the sea, and thus also with water management. We have built dikes, Delta works and reclaimed (“poldered”) a lot of land. All for the safety of the land and the people.

Rosanne: ‘The vantage point has always been: “how do we keep the water out?” Instead, we are curious how humans could adapt more to the landscape. We wonder why don’t we embrace the sea? How could we think more salt-inclusive?’ In order to share these questions, the Onkruidenier develops installations, performances and public events that make you experience the urban nature and green living environments in a different way.

The mouth as a testing environment

De Onkruidenier - Relearning Aquatic Evolution (2022). Foto: Marleen Annema
De Onkruidenier - Relearning Aquatic Evolution (2022). Foto: Marleen Annema

In their performative, speculative fieldwork, the Onkruidenier likes to create an embodied experience. The mouth is often used as a testing environment. ‘We want to connect your senses with the physical space. ‘Taste is a direct tool to do so,’ says Rosanne.

‘We make a taste composition based on a landscape, with which we invite you to do something or to ask yourself something, so that what you taste, can lead to different ways of thinking. It is like a miniature landscape on the tongue. Is it possible to get to know a place with your tongue? We’re not aiming to create a culinary or delicious eating experience, but we want people to slow down for a moment.’

Is the collective also able to slow down city planners and policy makers? ‘We are quite successful in taking the human, individual stakeholder along in our work. But making them aware in the sense that they will start to do policy making in a more nature-inclusive way? That is a challenge,’ says Roland. ‘Everything is dependent on who owns the soil and the land prices; on what has been laid down in a legal sense, and the profit that a municipality can extract from the land.’

Still, the Onkruidenier believes that they can make a difference if a city planner is invited to step out of their cognitive state, and to get in touch with an area and through imagination. ‘It can be nice to not think in economic terms for a while,’ says Rosanne. ‘But we are artists and will also identify the friction, ask critical questions or forge associative links.’

Pioneering at the Science Park

SWEET - SWEAT Travalogue (2021). Foto: Florian Braakman
SWEET - SWEAT Travalogue (2021). Foto: Florian Braakman

Within the framework of the project T-Factor, the Onkruidenier is working on their artistic intervention at two self-selected locations of the Amsterdam Science Park. On this site, Waag has been paving the way for nature-inclusive city initiatives for a longer time now.

Ronald: ‘At first sight, the Amsterdam Science Park came across like this huge, cold place with a constant noise coming from the nearby highway.’ The urban buildings and concrete turn it into a muggy heat area. The datacenter at the Science Park is cooled from the inside, but it emits its heat. ‘This makes the Science Park even hotter,’ states Rosanne.

Eventually, the Onkruidenier chose to work on a triangular piece of sandy ground next to the water. Its shape reminds them of the delta, the triangular shaped part of where the river flows into the sea. At the site, the Onkruidenier researches the Multispecies Living Room and what that can entail. Rosanne: ‘We see the piece of land as a space, a living room, and we’re curious who lives there.’ 

Learning from extremophiles

De Onkruidenier - Relearning Aquatic Evolution (2022). Foto: Marleen Annema
De Onkruidenier - Relearning Aquatic Evolution (2022). Foto: Marleen Annema

Now that our country (and the world) is getting hotter and saltier, it raises the question on how we should relate to that. A lot of bacteria cultures are adapted to survive under extreme circumstances. Ronald: ‘What can we learn from these extremophiles? How do we need each other as group, in order to create an ecosystem that is based on biodiversity? What can this site become for the future, if we put ourselves into the shoes of the smallest ones?’

Ronald: ‘Once you start to look better, there’s always something interesting to discover within a landscape. In the clearings of the Science Park, I’ve noticed a difference in the soil conditions of the gras. That has to do with the fact that land is reclaimed by spraying sand that originates from the sea.’ This explains why there are seashells in the sand. ‘It just goes to show that the location is composed of many components with different qualities.’

Join the event! 
Are you curious for a climate adeptive way of living and what we can learn from the smallest extremophiles? On Thursday 16 March (17:00 – 19:00 hrs.), the Onkruidenier and Esmee Geerken will give short presentations of their research and methods. Then, we walk to the two sites. The Onkruidenier will give a training to map out the smallest inhabitants of the Multispecies Living Room: the extremophiles. 

Landscape Festival

De Onkruidenier - Relearning Aquatic Evolution (2022). Foto: Marleen Annema
De Onkruidenier - Relearning Aquatic Evolution (2022). Foto: Marleen Annema

This event is a sneak peek for the Landscape Festival that will take place in spring 2023 at Amsterdam Science Park. You're invited to work towards a more biodiverse, nature-inclusive and climate resilient city together with Waag Futurelab.

About T-Factor

The artistic fieldwork and Landscape Festival are part of the project T-Factor. It reseaches how we can create urban initiatives that are nature-inclusive for humans, plants and microbes, at Amsterdam Science Park.





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This project has received funding from the European Commission under the H2020-SC5-20-2019 call under Grant Agreement number 868887.