Dissolution | Reconstitution: Sediment as Cultural Heritage

'Dissolution | Reconstitution: Sediment as Cultural Heritage' is a project by Joshua G. Stein/Radical Craft.

The Dissolution | Reconstitution: Sediment as Cultural Heritage project reimagines Italy’s Western Po Valley as a territory whose hydrology is both directed by and composed of anthropogenic activities—saturated with the positive and negative aspects of human culture and development. The sediment mobilized by the area’s waterways becomes the common medium to conceptualize a vast system operating both spatially and temporally at a territorial scale.
Joshua G. Stein has reconstructed the course of one of the tributaries of the Po River, the Torrente Oropa and its continuation as the Torrente Cervo, using materials sourced from the rivershed. These materials were discovered while ‘panning for architecture’, among other anthropogenic matter, and by foraging for rocks and sediment. The exhibition features physical and digital samples of the natural and human geologies found in select sites along the Oropa-Cervo trajectory. Material specimens are paired with 3D digital scans (conducted with hand-held LiDAR) to offer complementary perspectives into the transitory nature of the mineral world—both natural and constructed—as it relates to the fluvial sphere. Pedestals display mineral specimens harvested from select sites, which were pulverized and chemically analyzed in an attempt to track the movement of human and natural geologies from sites of contribution to sites of accumulation. The pedestals simultaneously channel the “flow” of the reconstructed waterway: the riverbank becomes a storage bank—a slowly leaking depository for a history of intentional and unintentional material donations sent regularly downstream.
Each pedestal indexes a specific point along the Oropa-Cervo watercourse, or one of its tributaries. Upstream from the historic textile town of Biella, the UNESCO-designated monument of the Sacro Monte di Oropa slowly erodes and deposits trace amounts of its geology into the Oropa stream. In the Biella Textile District, historic factories passively offer their own mineral contributions to the fluvial networks, dissolving into the rush of adjacent waterways at the same moment that these structures attempt to control these natural forces. As their mortar joints slowly erode, they deposit lime into the waterways, which then collects downstream along with iron oxide deposits from rusting metal, trace amounts of terra cotta roof tiles, and other substances. These materials mingle with the less desirable aspects of cultural heritage, such as the detrimental effluent of the historical industry, collected in the region’s sediment. Along with mineral contributions, the pedestals also archive the history of synthetic colorants, used by most factories between the end of the 19th century and the 1990s.

Farther downstream, the rice fields of Vercelli are irrigated by an intricate network of canals and ditches that distribute water and artificially connect vast regions. As a result, mineral and chemical cultural heritage from monuments and industries in distant watersheds accumulate in the rice fields. The maps and videos trace several trajectories of sediment contributions at both a regional and local scale, indicating the vast territory of cultural monuments that contribute materials to the rice fields. These maps demonstrate a new geological territory dictated by jurisdictional and infrastructural boundaries as much as by topography. The region’s sediment therefore acts as a slowly moving archive of its cultural heritage, of all valences. Sediment as Cultural Heritage seeks to use this newly mobilized understanding of anthropogenic materials, including architecture, to redefine our concepts of memory and stasis, reimagining how industry and nature commingle via the fluvial networks of the Po watershed, and beyond.

The various aspects of the installation visualize the processes and effects of erosion by techniques of acceleration. The already fragmentary digital LiDAR scans slowly shed particles as pixels that migrate away from their architectural configurations, carried off by rain and river. While geological formations and buildings alike are constantly contributing their materials into the sediment process, here the artist has accelerated this process by collecting fragments of these formations, pulverizing that material, and then mobilizing that material with water to create the “sediment spills” that appear on the pedestals. These miniature flows of materials follow the same behaviors as the braided rivers that transport sediment across the region.

The installation imagines the possibility of tracking the region’s cultural heritage downstream to be reconstituted once again as likeness of themselves—sediment castles formed in and from rice field deposits. The 3D clay printer actualizes this dream, reconstituting the architectural or geological forms found upstream with their potential material contributions harvested downstream - as the powdered architecture is introduced into the clay printer in an act of reverse erosion.


Artist: Joshua G. Stein / Radical Craft www.radical-craft.com
Cartography: Omar Alaoui
Cartography: Ayoub Anabarou
Historical Research: Thijs Bronts
Archival Documents and Colorant Reproductions: DocBi - Centro Studi Biellese
GIS Research: Andrea Galligari
Ceramic Printing Consultant/Exhibition Assistance: Federico Giacomarra
Video Editing: Mauri Greggio
Animation: Daniele Pugni
3D Clay Printer: WASP, Massa Lombarda, Italy

Support received from

Residency and exhibition at Cittadellarte -  Fondazione Pistoletto (Biella), curated by UNIDEE residency programs and Art Office within the S+T+ARTS4Water project. This project has received funding from S+T+ARTS (Science, Technology & the Arts), an initiative of the European Commission, launched under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

The following institutions facilited the research: Arpa Piemonte, Cordar S.p.a. Biella Servizi, Politecnico of Turin, University of Turin, Sediment Lab at University of Turin, CNR-ISAC (Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate), CNR-STIIMA (Institute of Intelligent Industrial Systems and Technologies for Advanced Manufacturing), DocBI Centro Studi Biellese, Meteorological Observatory of Oropa Sanctuary, Associazione d’Irrigazione Ovest Sesia.






STARTS (Science, Technology & the Arts) is an initiative of the European Commission, launched under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. Its purpose is to support collaborations between artists, scientists, engineers and researchers to develop more creative, inclusive, and sustainable technologies.

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