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Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden, 2012–16, barge, plants, soil, wood. Installation view, Bristol, UK, 2015. From Seeds of Change, 1999–. Photo: Maria Thereza Alves.

THE FUNNY THING about ships is that you have to weigh them down to keep them afloat. Historically, stones, soil, sand, wood, and bricks placed inside a ship’s hull have provided this weight. At the end of a voyage, the ballast is dumped, to be repurposed as building materials or to settle as soil. It becomes a pedological archive: A portion of the ground beneath Manhattan’s FDR Drive is built from the rubble of British buildings demolished during World War II; the area came to be known as Bristol Basin. Meanwhile, Liverpudlian stones that were a by-product of the trans-atlantic cotton and tobacco trades make up Savannah, Georgia’s iconic cobblestone streets. Sometimes, ballast creates new terrain, too, as is the case on Lilla Norge, an island off the eastern coast of central Sweden that blooms with Norwegian flowers found nowhere else in the area.

Ballast similarly anchors Maria

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