Marleen Boschen

Testing Grounds:

Ecological Imaginaries for Agropoetics and Co-cultivation

A curatorial programme
    in the garden of 

April 2023 - ongoing

Over the coming years, the garden will become a site for experimental artistic research and practice, the amplification of activist struggles for the access to and well-being of land, and for sharing place-based eco-pedagogies for care, healing and living with loss. Through a range of different activities and moments of activation, we imagine the garden as a testing ground for anti-capitalist and anti-colonial agroecological practices that are grounded in collective care and intergenerational and interspecies knowledge sharing.

Exploring what this garden can be and who can find belonging and access to land through it, we want to encourage joy through co-cultivation, encouraging biodiversity and regenerative practices. We draw from the privilege of access to a large piece of flourishing and abundant land. We seek to use this space to amplify the voices of those involved in environmental resistance and in keeping marginalised knowledges alive. 

Attuning to the poetic, experimental and radical practices of artists working with cultivation the garden will become a space for slow learning and un-learning with plants, people and other lifeforms and their respective worldmaking. The programme begins by slowly learning from the diversity that’s already present, understanding the dynamism of the garden as a place that has been in the making for decades, soil that has been made and remade for hundreds of years. And that will keep holding and giving ground for the life in the Villa and its ecosystem.


The Living Recipe Book | Daniela Zambrano Almidón

The Living Recipe Book creates moments of sharing food and rebuilding memory for Andean diasporic communities in the context of displacement, working with the deep and vital connection to the Land and connection to the rhythm of the earth in Quechuan culture.

Daniela Zambrano Almidón has planted indigenous varieties of maize, chillies and sweet potatoe distributed in Villa Romana’s garden. These plants will feed into collaborative learning, meals and celebrations for the Quechuan community ‘where the protagonists are the dishes of our grandmothers, and where memories revive our connection to our land and to our siblings who stayed behind defending our great mother.’ The project will culminate in a pachamanca, a collective meal cooked in a soil oven underground, with the theme of To Feed is to Love.

Through moments of sharing – based on the Quechuan concept of Ayni as a practice of reciprocity and interconnection – The Living Recipe Book explores how to affectively and politically rebuild a connection with the land for migrant families and continue this into the future. At the same time the project traces the colonisation of land, people and plants through the movements of Andean maize and tomatoes to Europe – and the region around Florence specifically–, alongside the loss of memories attached to these plants.

Daniela Zambrano Almidón is a Peruvian Quechua researcher and interdisciplinary artist, with experience in artistic projects and research on Andean-Amazonian popular culture in Peru, migratory groups, interculturality and memorial culture. She holds a Bachelor in Plastic and Visual Arts from the Escuela Nacional Superior Autónoma de Bellas Artes del Perú, and a Masters from the program “Arts in Context” at the University of the Arts in Berlin. In 2023, she was a participant in the Singapore Biennale. She is involved in numerous projects that are rooted in participatory practices, artistic research, as well as interventions in public spaces and museum institutions: Since 2011, she has worked on researching textile art with the EnRedLanita Project. She is director of the project “Tejiendo Caminos”, a decentralised intercultural art project founded in 2014 together with community leaders, regional environmental activists and artists. She is also founder of the Ashlanqueras Collective, a Laboratory of Interventions in Urban Public Space in Lima. In Berlin she works on projects of cultural management, mediation, intercultural pedagogy and participatory art.

Orto Continuo | Leone Contini

Responding to the evictions of Chinese migrant farmers from their farms in Prato, Orto Continuo brings together plants from these farms that were forcibly abandoned, or that are in the constant danger of being confiscated, in order to unveil the demagogic circle of Institutional/media violence that informs such practice The project considers how authorities and media other the cultivation practices of migrant communities through discourses around invasive species that value some humans and non-humans more than others along the lines of nationality. The installation is part of a larger body of research where Leone Contini has been looking at farming in various communities that keeps biocultural memory alive and creates staple foods, from Chinese farmers in Tuscany to the Bengali agriculture around Palermo, to the workers’ gardens in Lyon where biodiversity from different geographies has cohabited for decades. In this way Orto Continuo creates a space for creative cohabitation of the histories and movements of plants and their custodians.  

Leone Contini studied Philosophy and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Siena. His research sits at the intersection of anthropology, aesthetics and politics and his media include lecture-performances, collective interventions in public spaces, textual and visual narratives and drawings.

Seed Bunch | a collaborative seed-centred garden

Seed Bunch is a seed-centered garden and performative seed library. By implementing a garden at Villa Romana that is designed and fostered around seedling cycles and exchanges, we embrace the seed’s ontological relationality. The collection, storage and distribution system, namely the seed library, manifests through periodical gatherings around the garden following the different cycles of the species involved. By orienting the gardening towards seeds, we attempt a responsive and transversal human-environment relationship, in which human agency comes through not as formal engineering processes, but dynamically developing into, as well as together with, the garden. Breaking out from an anthropocentric and eurocentric understanding of archives and infrastructures, the living library blooms throughout regular material-discursive collective engagements - which simply put are reunions for fostering the garden library in a nice atmosphere and with adjacent activities-, praising the ambivalent potency of seeds, as they represent both beginnings and ends to cycles. Aesthetically, the garden will grow into a powerful and embracing display of freedom, entanglement, cooperation and co-cultivation. We hope similar gardens emerge in different locations, so the Seed Bunch becomes a translocal network of seed care and exchange.

Seed Bunch is deeply informed by artists Zayaan Khan’s work on moving from seed-as-object to seed-as-relation. The garden has been developed with Leone Contini and imagined with Monai de Paula Atunes. In its first year of cultivation the garden is growing from seed donations from artists Marleen Boschen, Katia Colaianni, Leone Contini, Jermay Michael Gabriel, Gabriella Hirst, Antje Majewski, Monaí de Paula Atunes, Åsa Sonjasdotter, Daniela Zambrano Almidón 

Seed Bunch is a growing collective effort – get in touch if you’re interested in joining the sharing and storytelling around seeds, either in in-person events or remotely via our Telegram group.


Healing Garden

How can an artists’ house become a space for collaborative healing and learning from plants? Drawing from the pre-existing biodiversity in Villa Romana’s garden we want to create a medicinal garden, put differently, a garden for healing both for humans and the villa’s nonhuman inhabitants. We imagine this garden to take shape in a secluded area within the villa’s larger garden in the autumn and winter of 2023/24. With the expert knowledge of agronomist Isabella Devetta we are currently mapping the biodiversity of the garden and learning about the pre-existing species with medicinal properties. Throughout the summer, together with the resident artists and the villa’s many visiting thinkers and practitioners, we will develop a list of plants and a design for a community apothecary. Exploring what the reasons and conditions are that might make us turn to plants – such as stress, anxiety, pain, digestion, sleep… – we will create a space that creates both an aesthetic experience of being held and belonging as well as a space for collective gatherings and practical learning from plants and people with herbal medicinal knowledge. By the spring of 2024 we plan to start using this garden actively, sharing knowledges around the plants with Villa Romana’s audiences and visitors and creating moments of collection, processing and experimentation.