Friday, June 12, 2009

What we're talking about when we talk about talking about gardening in an art context

UNRELATED TO THIS POST BUT KIND OF IMPORTANT: I am pretty sure that I pulled a deer tick off of my shoulder today. Anyone want to refer me to a doctor? I don't see a red ring yet, but just in case. Also: constant vigilance!!


I've been reading about Dutch art history a little bit lately. One thing I've been really interested in is an idea put forth by Svetlana Alpers, about the difference between the pictorial modes of areas south of the Alps (Italy) and areas north. The southern mode is one in which one makes sense of what appear to be random occurrences by inventing a higher truth that aligns them in a logical manner. The north, on the other hand, observes the world as it is around us and attempts to comprehend it as accurately and intensely as possible in order to place oneself in the world.

I was thinking about this in relationship to the brief presentation of artists working with gardening or greening spaces--which of these pictorial modes might better suit such efforts? Because certainly, while working in a garden one encounters a lot of interesting allegories to one's lived life or cultural institutions (tangent: can we talk some more sometime about the weird parallels between gardening vernacular and military vernacular?), at the same time the key thing when working in a garden is just doing it, simply toiling at a task and paying attention to the surroundings. I suspect the conversation of viewing it "as art" might be more about viewing it from this southern pictorial space--from this insistence that the gardening "mean something", when in fact the effort itself has an immanent meaning. The consequences, political and personal, are inherently tied to the physical act, to the fact of laboring over a shared resource. While it certainly matters to the participants in Edible Estates that they are part of this larger project, what probably matters more is how the cabbage is doing or if there's a pest problem. And perhaps those facts of living with the work day to day are more important than the nice bow made pulling strands of meaning together to tie up and package the work.

The understanding--and funding--of gardening as art may have more to do with the closed-off tendencies of scientific or political institutions than the openness of cultural institutions. Mel Chin couldn't fund Revival Field through scientific channels, but he could through the Walker Arts Center. Can anyone think of some organization not design or art related that would and could have funded Edible Estates? The "could" I suppose begs the question of how it is that art institutions can afford to fund these projects--because I'm pretty sure that they don't sustain the museums in any way (even when the ICA in Philadelphia had a solar greenhouse installed on their rooftop terrace for Locally Localized Gravity, it was temporary). This strikes me as unusual in that museums are spaces for contemporary practice but also for preservation. How can these be made to sustain the institution?

Reference points: Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Svetlana Alpers, Design 99.

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