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Olive Tree Installation Charms and Causes Controversy in Milan

The installation of 16 centenary olive trees in celebration of Milan's Design Week has led to some questioning the origin and the future of the trees. Artist Sabine Marcelis says the trees were ethically sourced.

Apr. 18, 2019
By Ylenia Granitto

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Six­teen sec­u­lar olive trees popped up in the streets of Milan, just steps away from the Duomo di Milano, the majes­tic Gothic cathe­dral that sits right in the city cen­ter, by the shop­ping dis­trict.

The trees were brought to the the Piazza Duomo as part of the Green Life event, which is hosted by Rinascente, a chain of high-end depart­ment stores, in cel­e­bra­tion of Milan’s design week.

(The instal­la­tion) pays homage to the incred­i­ble Ital­ian veg­e­ta­tion and pro­vides an oasis of green­ery in the heart of Milan.- Sabine Marcelis, cre­ator

Every year at this time, what is usu­ally regarded as Italy’s fash­ion cap­i­tal’ tem­porar­ily dresses up as a hot spot for design enthu­si­asts. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of vis­i­tors come from all over the world to enjoy the world’s biggest design fair.

Out­side of the main fur­ni­ture exhi­bi­tion a set of side events, includ­ing art, fash­ion, food, and tech­nol­ogy called Fuorisa­lone (lit­er­ally trans­lated as out fair”), are the back­drop for the Green Life project. Launched two years ago by Rinascente, its goal to raise aware of envi­ron­men­tal issues and sus­tain­abil­ity.

See more: Olive Oil Cul­ture

This year’s design was con­ceived by Dutch artist Sabine Marcelis: a small boule­vard made up of 16 cen­tury-old olive trees arranged on white plat­forms out­side of Rinascen­te’s flag­ship store in Piazza Duomo.

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The olive tree instal­la­tion, which cre­ates a per­fect place to enjoy a peace­ful moment of relax­ation in the shade of mon­u­men­tal olive trees, pays homage to the incred­i­ble Ital­ian veg­e­ta­tion and pro­vides an oasis of green­ery in the heart of Milan,” the orga­nizer said, adding that this set-up aims to trans­form stores into ver­dant oases” and help make the city more beau­ti­ful and liv­able for all its res­i­dents and daily vis­i­tors.”

Nev­er­the­less, the use of sec­u­lar olive trees taken out of con­text com­pletely divided opin­ion: on the one hand there are those who appre­ci­ate the aes­thetic value of the olive tree boule­vard, and on the other, there are those who do not like the idea of see­ing age-old olive trees in the street.

Design Week in Milan, 16 olive trees. Beau­ti­ful! You can walk and take some rest. It seems like a dream, but it is real­ity,” event-goer Carmella Maz­za­glia com­mented on Face­book.

In Milan a nat­ural’ instal­la­tion on the occa­sion of the Design Week. Beau­ti­ful olive trees,” Daniela Bordi added in another Face­book com­ment.

How­ever, some say that sec­u­lar olive trees should be respected and stay where they belong, in the olive groves, espe­cially in this time of envi­ron­men­tal emer­gency, while a com­mon con­cern is that the plants have been uprooted from Puglia, which already has a prob­lem with Xylella fas­tidiosa. More­over, some fear that the roots have been harmed.

In such a del­i­cate his­tor­i­cal moment in which the urgent need to resolve envi­ron­men­tal issues is cru­cial, see­ing an instal­la­tion of sec­u­lar olive trees in the cen­ter of Milan is a blow to the heart, not only for those like me who come from an area [Puglia] where many olive trees are dying […] I asso­ciate this instal­la­tion with snow can­nons in the desert. Some­thing fake, taste­less, super­fi­cial,” Francesco Raganato wrote in a crit­i­cal post on Face­book.

Marcelis, the artist, said she under­stood the con­cern of peo­ple, such as Raganato, and clar­i­fied that the trees were not actu­ally removed from Puglia.

They were already removed from the earth more than six years ago, in Granada, Spain, to make way for a high­way,” Marcelis told Olive Oil Times. There­fore, we found them in their cur­rent state. Their orig­i­nal root space was respected. We merely placed a white pro­tec­tion shell around, respect­ing the roots and not mak­ing the space any smaller.”

Rinascente also sought to clear the air of mis­con­cep­tions. A spokesper­son for the depart­ment store told Olive Oil Times that the trees were being kept in appro­pri­ate con­di­tions and would find more suit­able, per­ma­nent homes at the end of the event.

The olive trees were kept in their soil clods out of the ground for the last six years and have ended up thriv­ing thanks to the type of care and treat­ment they received from the nurs­ery,” the spokesper­son said. After the event, the trees will be planted in per­ma­nent and ideal homes.”

At the end of the event, on April 22, the ancient olive trees will be care­fully moved to a new home, and their exis­tence will con­tinue in an appro­pri­ate envi­ron­ment.

I am a nature lover,” Marcelis added. And this project is all about cel­e­brat­ing nature.”





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