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Restoring relationships along terraced landscapes – a dry stone workshop

a workshop guided by antonisotzu & jean ni from Foghíles

Find the program of the workshop here
{language: Italian and English}

The support structure of the village as house

The Academy of Margins’ program for 2023/2024 has the aim to explore the intricacies, fertilities, intuitions and fermentations that can appear around the concept and dwelling practice, very dear to us, of the Village as House.
By living collectively in Topolò, we turn the village itself into a house, its paths into corridors, landscape into a space of continual negotiation. We constantly move from house to house, trespassing and blurring the boundaries of private and public spaces. We use abandoned parts of the village as our own, dedicating dreams or small actions of maintenance to them. When, around six years ago, or maybe seven or even eight, we temporarily settled down in the village and decided to spend our first winter and our first longer period here, the landscape, that during summers looked like a dense homogeneous forest, unveiled itself in front of our eyes: the forest without leaves was transparently showing what the summer tree crowns were covering, an intricate system of dry stone walls, some of which hundreds of years old, to support gardens, meadows and agricultural fields.

During spring 2023, in the Academy of Margins workshop titled The Village as Ecological Entity, facilitated by the beekeeper Erika Mayr, we introduced bees in Topolò, while trying to answer the question of who are the inhabitants of this village as house.

For spring 2024, in the Academy of Margins workshop titled Restoring relationships along terraced landscape, guided by antonisotzu and jean ni from Foghíles, we go back to the village’s concrete support structure, the landscape as it was transformed and re-shaped by those who inhabited the place before us, staying in the complexity of seeing the landscape and the walls supporting it collapse and become ruins while exploring what could be their meaning, function and role within the garden of the village as house.

Notes on restoration & maintenance

“They don’t need to try to explain that one can’t just look at or preserve a sacred site. That if the sacredness is to be maintained, [we] have to continue the relationship. Fast. Pray. Sing. Carve. You cannot just ignore something and expect it to still be there for you when you need it.”
— Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Noopiming: A Cure for White Ladies

“In order to fulfill the promise of restoration, we must devise strategies that are at least as powerful and inclusive as the strategies that have dislocated human cultures and caused the destruction of ecosystems. We need to find ways to integrate the practice of ecological restoration with the only population that can carry those practices forward into local custom: the inhabitory communities of particular places.”
— Freeman House, Restoring Relations: The Vernacular Approach to Ecological Restoration

Common imagination around drystone walls is often related to the concept of boundary division. However, humans have used the technique long before the invention of private property, relating to our surroundings by collecting and moving stones into lines and steps. Drystone artifacts are joints between stones, coming together in wise configurations that support erosion control, shelter, trail designation, pastoral management, lime production, humidity collection, and tree protection. Drystone artifacts are places to manifest individual and collective cultural practices, places that signify care, places that offer evidence of proximity and ongoing relationality.

Through this workshop we engage with Topolo’s steep hillsides which are shaped by a system of stone retaining walls that perpetually interact with ancient and novel forest dwellers. The environment has and continues to shape these spaces over time: some trees cling to mossy walls, strengthening the entire organism, while other roots burst through to topple heavy stone slabs. Soil and humidity gather in the pockets of cracks to host ferns and climbers that stretch across undulating surfaces.

What does it mean to restore and maintain relationships with terraced landscapes today? We explore the power of staying in a place: walking, noticing, developing seasonal rituals for maintaining a dialogue. The act of drystone walling is a technique that resists linear time: inherited from our ancestors, it remains a living embodiment of a ritual that exercises the use of perception and practice.

We suggest some simple actions to begin:

Take a few walks around
Noticing our surroundings
Who is here now? In what configurations?
Examine, touch, move the cracked and fallen
Is there moss to preserve?
Did you find a hibernating scorpion?
Are there branches to remain, roots to be removed?
When is an action beneficial and when is it destructive?

Create a one-to-one scale catalog of available stones
Line them up into types if you’d like (we like)
Prepare a bed for the stones to properly nestle in
Each action is a slow meditation, a consideration
We are makers of joints between two, three, four, five stones
Each joint is unique in space and time
Restoring in this way means finding new combinations
Rather than placing stones in the same position as before:
We are makers of new joints, new meanings, in this precise moment
The possibilities seem endless
Find the face of the stone,
Consider how it might sit atop, between, underneath others
Is it dancing? Find a small stone shim
You might decide to reshape some facets by meeting sharp metal with stone
Or, you might take your time to find the right fit with what you already have
Remember to take a step back often
And have a look from afar.

jean ni and antonisotzu are a duo who seek increasingly radical and rooted ways of being.
Their conversations and practices move through intersections of heritage, indigeneity, decolonization, maintenance, and accountability. Through the project foghíles they follow the seasonal rhythms of Seméstene, Sardinia, hosting place-based encounters that explore new sensitive forms of living and interacting with place - relating to vernacular knowledge, to wild trees, to stone artifacts, to waterbodies.
They are both freelancers in territorial design as well as PhD fellows researching biocultural networks and restoration practices across Sardinia.

The project Restoring Relationships Along Terraced Landscapes is part of the program of Academy of Margins 2023, made possible thanks to the support of Regione FVG and Fondazione Pietro Pittini.