AD-Lab NABA: critical methods in visual thinking and creative research.

Saturday July 6th 2024 by Peter Thomas Lang


The project CULT(ivate) began as a simple concept: how can we draw  connections between a popular understanding of the natural world and recent scientific developments in the natural sciences. There is some urgency behind this question, climate change is having a fundamental impact on the way we as humans perceive and live the environment, and as a result, how can we become better informed about the challenges we will face in these coming years?
As many of us are coming to realize, climate change, and the impact it will have on our daily lives, is not something to postpone for some distant future. Rather this is a phenomenon we need to deal with right now. In the master’s level course “AD-Lab” here at NABA in Rome, we were given the opportunity to work with the CNR in Montelibretti and we quickly chose to approach the Biosystems center, in the hope of getting a closer look at the science that focuses on plant growth, and plant habitats. How will society be able to maintain the kind of natural resources necessary so that Earth’s population could hopefully continue living healthy and satisfactory lives? Or will the greater global society succumb under the duress of a rapidly changing environment, failing to act when there were still sufficient opportunities to do so? Given the complexity of the challenge, the NABA based AD-Lab collective formed CULT(ivate), with the aspiration of working through these tough challenges, homing in and targeting specific strategies related to a regional biome.
Fortunately, most of the answers we are seeking are not out of our reach, and many solutions to living in a transforming environment, unsurprisingly, have been around for a very long time. One of the scientists at the Biosystems center, and our principal interlocutor for this project, Giulia Cappelli, made it very clear that to expand our understanding of the plant world, it helps to look every once and a while back at our forebearers and their more hands-on culture. She told us about the plant called the Asplenium ceterach, the name given to the species by the renown Carl Linnaeus in his treatise Species Plantarum back in 1753—more  commonly known in Italy as a spaccapietra, (rock-splitter). Cappelli recounted that in an earlier time farmers determined this strange plant would have excellent properties for curing kidney stones. This kind of information is as relevant to us in this changing environment as it would have been back in their day.
Interestingly, Cappelli’s own family was deeply effected by war, and her parents extremely conscious about foraging for consumable vegetation. She recounted how people from their generation were committed to the science called Phytoalimurgia . Accordingly, the term originates in 1767, when the Italian physician Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti wrote the book “De alimenti urgentia” with the aim of helping people in times of starvation.
With the consensus of the AD-Lab course participants, we have decided to publish in our project the   Phytoalimurgia Archive, where readers will find references to about two dozen plants, flowers and herbs that grow in the surrounding region and that exhibit nutritional and or medicinal properties. Significantly this kind of vegetation is not just good for human consumption. I remember very well when I was a kid, that my own dog would purposely eat a certain type of grass to relieve indigestion. One stern warning we should heed is never again separate the human from nature, lest we fall back to the original problem that started it all: this sense of superiority over nature, as Stefano Mancuso has observed in his book La Pianta del mondo, that got us into this alienating process leading to extreme climate conditions in the first place.