Rediscovering the garden itself is the desire of Lost garden found. Following the meticulously crafted texts and diagrams will lead you to a particular garden, a particular complex of works, but it is the garden as architectural typology that the work wants you to reveal.
A garden is a planned space designed for multiple perspectives, individual movements – the patient experience of time and change. It is unique in being that typology which elicits curiosity and wonder deliberately. Lifestyle television would have us believe that a garden is a static backyard enclosure, composed of readily introducible finished elements and capable of being seen with a single glance. Garden typologies tend not to feature in our non-suburban imaginings – and yet we desire a city of movement and light, with an ever-changing set of possible trajectories through which to explore its spaces. Essentially an interconnected series of audiovisual installations, the Lost gardens transforms an entire innercity highrise floor into an exploration space.
Twigs and branches, aviaries of light, fluted trunks, signs of animal life in the form of found objects, recycled materials and a low-tech approach to electronics and sound. Shadows and reflections create another layer of transformed life. Moving through the space creates generic natural forms, curious extensions of the arm, faces drawing more intimately together as curved fabric screens superimpose nonadjacent bodies. These gardens have moving parts: machines with exposed motors, cogs, turntables, belts – each with their own specific duration and centre of gravity. The gardener’s vigilance is not against decomposition and decay, but rather friction and dissonance.
As I make my way through the Lost gardens, artists with technical expertise make small but necessary tweaks to the moving parts of particular works (a turntable projection motor has stopped running, creating an unanticipated continuity of light; live wires overhanging a rotating twig conductor have become caught, creating an unexpected continuity of sound) and here they become gardeners, tending to the needs of precarious movements. Gardens need work – they offer a kind of work, a kind of engagement which in turn offers a unique combination of postures for the body and distractions for the mind. Gardening gives you a particular shape, a space for thoughts, a dwelling with time. Perhaps cities need work too. Perhaps cities are always inviting us to take on subtle variations in our postures and perceptions, to make more than just a detached contribution with a critical eye. Just as a garden is always already lost to the elements which threaten its planned harmony, so too is it always ready to be found.
New species await to be discovered. Tall, embellished tubes with fluted ends evoke something between a gramophone horn, an exhaust pipe and an oversized cactus flower looming over me, luring me with the promise of distant sounds. The city invites distraction and offers environments for the emergence of new types, forms, events – the promise of the new. Is the garden a slowness and deliberation to the city’s speed? Laying out a central grid allows a city to unfurl into more focused spaces, neighbourhoods of proximity which cultivate unique subcultures and forms of exchange. Feudal systems once laid out grids on an arrogant scale, encompassing entire neighbourhoods and giving over the community garden’s yield to the wealth of Empire. Grids of consistency over an entire state, caricatured by sampler gardens of the period – sometimes ornate mazes beset with central sundials, such that the garden would mark time as well as space. The suburban backyard garden inherits these tendencies, demarcating geometric plots of flowering plant and vegetable, perhaps a wooden deck or feature item. Today cities too can seem indistinguishable from their urban metropolitan counterparts at the level of street advertising and commercial typologies. The office building accommodates complex tessellations of workstations; the railway station makes anonymous spaces for transit; the museum houses inert markers of culture. It is not then a question of speed and slowness, but of movement and the possibilities of movement: architecture.
A garden is not designed for sound, but cities inadvertently are – albeit, not deliberately. It is sound that will make you turn and change direction suddenly and without a plan. The Lost gardens envelop you – but not in the programmed way of a formal garden maze, as though curiosity wanted formal entrapment. The slowing-down that the garden desires makes it possible to sharpen perception as well as to relax it, and so to make new discoveries.The plan of the gardens draws you in elliptically, but so do its materials and its forms and its sounds. Lost gardens found plays with our modes of enquiry, while also offering ways to move and ways to rest. On my final visit my friend and I sit on a wooden bench before a slow-moving moon, rising large and beautifully round behind a sparse, wintry treescape. We hold hands.
Lost Gardens Found (curated by Anna Tweeddale) was presented as part of the 2004 Next Wave Festival
First published in Subaud 2004