Under the epic title Per Asperen ad Astra, art producers Marcel van Kerkvoorde and Holger Nickisch joined forces in their expertise about the cultural and economic repurposing of cultural heritage sites. At Fort bij Asperen, an historic fortress in the Hollandse Waterlinie defense line, they created an accessible, participative cultural programma that aims to promote the social, cultural and touristic values of the region around Asperen. To the purpose, they invited inhabitants and visitors to the greater rural Betuwe region, with people from several fields of expertise, to join and create artistic expressions about the land together.
In May 2019, Cascoland organised the Asperen Lab&Keuken, a cultural cooking&tasting event at Fort bij Asperen. Local food producers, chefs, scientists, creatives and the general public joined at a mobile, pop-up kitchen table, to prepare food together and to exchange knowledge and viewpoints about the impact of modern food production on the environment. On that day, the roof of Fortress at Asperen, from which one can obtain a wide view of the rural Betuwe region, supported an installation of six kitchen tables constructed by artists and designers. At these six tables, the general public joined six chefs, six food producers and six researchers from academic institutions. Every ten minutes, the food producers and their products switched tables, while at the kitchen tables, numerous conversations emerged between people who would normally not likely meet one another to talk about subjects like sustainable food production, consumption and the effects on the (local) landscape.
Preceding the Lab&Kitchen event, Cascoland had set up camp at Fort bij Asperen for three weeks, from which they organised cooking and tasting workshops at serveral different locations in the region around Asperen. In preparation, Cascoland had researched the region to find local ingredients and chefs, farmers and growers with innovative ideas and new ways of producing food.
In one of these workshops, Cascoland collaborated with Renate Kleijn-Brouwer of the local Kruidenbrouwerij (´Herb Cookery´), who provided herbs kruiden and edible flowers for the meals at the Lab&Kitchen table. With these, the artists created a compôte of the exotic and very invasive Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and rubarb, a tempura of nettles and yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and a pesto of wild garlic (Allium ursinum).
By bringing locals and visitors to the region together at the kitchen table with scientists and creative thinkers, a fruitful context was achieved in which ideas about food production and consumption were re-imagined to attain new, sustainable ways.
Artist Marcia Sandee (1984) lives and works in the nearby Gellicum and grew up in Rumpt, both small rural towns in the Betuwe region. In collaboration with city dwellers and inhabitants of the rural area, she produced a podcast revolving around the different ways of living ´between village and city´. The podcast accompanied a walking route through the fruit orchards around Fort bij Asperen, specifically developed for Per Asperen ad Astra.
If you were to choose between living in a rural village, or the city: where would you live? What are the differences? What attracts you? Walking along the route through the area, while listening to the podcast, one meets vegetable farmer Bertus, and wanders into a village fest. The differences between life in a rural village and the city are substantial, – so the narrator ponders, when she returns as a young adult to the rural village in the Betuwe where she once was born. The difference in the mentality of the villagers and the limited options there make her long for the city. Yet meanwhile, her urban peers with young families are exploring the countryside to find a place to live, hoping to leave life in the overcrowded city behind.
In this experiential way, walking in the landscape and listening to the podcast, one became part of an intimate quest for a place to call home. The environment seamlessly integrated with the quietude and backdrop of the story. And at the same time it was a unique way of viewing Fort bij Asperen from different angles.
The funding for the Per Asperen ad Astra project was largely granted by the citizens through the Culture & Heritage fund Gelderland, which allows people to vote for projects that they find relevant to the region; a form of New Democracy organised by the Province of Gelderland.
Apart from curating Per Asperen ad Astra, Holger Nickisch was involved to write the application for the project and in establishing a network of public authorities and other stakeholders in the region.