The Park Spark Project
Drachten, Netherlands

Steeped in Exploration - The latest Project/Research work of the Park Spark project - Built in the Netherlands Spring 2010 – Although Steeped in Exploration uses cow manure and not dog waste in the digester, it is an expression of how a community can come together and experience their surroundings and each other in an interesting way through this new social space.

Steeped in Exploration - “A Teahouse without Tea!” – is a socially engaged art project aimed at creating space for dialogues around exploring the “local”, science, public involvement, ecological issues, community building, artists’ sensibilities, bringing criticality to a space, and dissecting the systems that make up our “everyday”.

“As local as it gets” - The physical structure of Steeped in Exploration, made from all local materials, becomes a site of communal tea drinking. The tea served at the teahouse is not from the grocery store or peoples’ gardens, it is foraged by the people enjoying the tea on public outing that take us throughout the area based on knowledge and experiences of the people at the outing. Even the heat to boil the water for the tea comes from a local source, by transforming cow manure from local farms into energy (methane) through a methane digester. This participatory intervention questions our current systems of living, at the same time creates an opportunity for others to participate in the (re)imaging of our world.

Investigating edible plants for tea revolves around conversations brought by local people during the public outings, making the “invisible” visible! Someone might say, “I know you can drink Sting Nettles, because my grandmother did that all her life”, or someone else might talk about how “700 years ago the monks brought medicinal wisdom to the area and that their garden was right over there and still has some unique plants in it”. Steeped in Exploration is about the extraction of local knowledge that spans geography, history, health issues, the environment and ecology, prying into ideas about the landscape, neighbors, and community.

Foraging and making tea communally asks us to depart from the usual avenues of consumeristic culture and opens ourselves up to a more unscripted and informal way of interacting. These actions of collecting plants from the landscape and the rituals of making tea become something much more critical, visual, and participatory, while creating a moment to take a fresh view of the landscape and the people we live with.

The blue and yellow methane digester is an anchor and catalyst for creating new possibilities of social interactions while questioning existing ones. Digesters are used all over the world to cook and light spaces. Anaerobic digestion is a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen and release methane, which is burned to heat water for tea. This public decentralized heat generation provides context and frames the conversation for exploring the landscape and collecting edible plants. This curiously simple, yet mystifying technology, questions global issues, at the same time creates local responses to issues of sustainability and lifestyle choices.

-Just as a plant transforms from day to night, the teahouse opens to have tea- The building of Steeped in Exploration is a collaboration between a local rietdekker (roof thatcher), welder, scientists, artists and members of the community, which helped further conceptualize the project and bring it to a more poignant final stage. The thoughts behind the unfolding tea house stems from the idea of “transformation” - transformation of cow manure into a flame, transformation of common materials into an unfamiliar vision, and the transformation of ones relationship to their environment-
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