Notes on the Exhibition
Luigi Marliano was born in Milan. Around the time the Santa Maria first encountered the ‘New World’ in 1492, he moved north to the Netherlands. There, he became a personal adviser to Charles V, soon to become ruler of the new Spanish Empire. As the empire grew, and its wealth with it, Marliano suggested plus ultra (‘go further beyond’) as a motto to Charles. It was a reference to, and inversion of, the inscription non plus ultra (‘nothing further beyond’) inscribed in the pillars of Hercules, mythically positioned at the western entrance of the Mediterranean sea – the edge of the known world – in antiquity.
The great wealth of the Spanish Empire originated in the 700ft-deep mine shafts of the Cerro de Potosí, the ‘mountain made of silver’, in modern-day Bolivia, where countless thousands of indigenous and African slaves died of mercury poisoning. The silver would be shipped to Spain for conversion into imperial power, until the quantities imported became so great that its value, thought implacably strong, dramatically diminished.
Charles’ policies exemplified an elite incredulous to the world changing around it. It was exactly this incredulity that was parodied by Cervantes in Don Quixote; the story of a man who finds in his own stories a reality more amenable than the one now encompassing him.
The period marks such an historical turning point that key scientific terminology hinges upon it: an archaeophyte is a species introduced before Europeans encountered the ‘New World’, and a neophyte is one introduced after then. Very recently, the term industriophyte has been introduced to refer to plant species that have become established due to industrialism.
In Germany, the term is used for species which have become established around the industrial sites of the Ruhr valley that were abandoned in the 1980s but have since been converted into leisure spaces. Urban planners on research trips from all over the world find locals walking their dogs around an abandoned colliery, or practicing rock climbing in the metre-thick concrete ore bins of an old blast furnace.
In London, canals can serve as an ‘ecological corridor’ for industriophytes which establish themselves in the cracks in aging concrete towpaths. There, they might compete with other plant species also only seen here since the nineteenth century though brought by very different means, such as Giant Hogweed, displayed in the Ibero-Caucasian Garden in the 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations. After the Great Exhibition it was planted in the gardens of Buckingham Palace but soon spread, unexpectedly. Over generations it colonised London’s waterways, where it still dominates.