Gardening as Method

Gardening is shaping nature, art is representing nature, life is part of nature, and science looks to understand the laws of nature.

A constant across cultures and belief systems throughout time is that humans (and maybe even other species) think of the Earth as a garden. Gardening could be described as hermaphroditic in that it is seen as both a practice and a methodology. Similarly, it seems that the most celebrated practitioners don’t separate their work and their life, not only are they the same thing, they live to work, not vice versa. If idiosyncrasies play a role in shaping their practices, then they too help shape the practices of their contemporaries.

Miro book
Joan Miro: I Work Like a Gardener by Taillandier and Lubart

With no formal training in painting, or gardening for that matter, my behaviours in both arenas are the same. As something grows in the garden or takes shape on the canvas, a judgement call is made, if I like it, it stays, gets watered and moved to a more prominent position. If I don’t it gets removed and thrown in the compost, or painted over in whitewash. Miró (Taillandier and Lubart, 2017) too found his subjects in the creative process itself and spoke about his artistic practice in gardening metaphors. He saw the studio as somewhere between a laboratory and a kitchen garden, a place for the cross-fertilisation of ideas where he can prune works and watch them ripen.

“Art can die; what matters is that it scatters seeds on the ground”

Joan Miró

The curatorial concept for the nomadic biennial; Manifesta 12 (2018) in Palermo was based on the idea of a ‘planetary garden’, a phrase coined by botanist Gilles Clément who saw humans as its gardeners. Whilst this romantic metaphor may still resonate with us, today’s gardeners operate against the backdrop of “invisible informational networks, transnational private interests, algorithmic intelligence, environmental processes and ever-increasing inequalities” (Manifesta 12, 2018). The famous botanical garden (added to by all the civilisations to settle in Sicily), religious buildings, theatres and former palazzos became sites where artists responded to themes of climate, time, social factors, reliance on other species and the idea of shared responsibility.

Describing itself as ‘a laboratory for the challenges of our time’ (Manifesta 12, 2018) the programme was designed to look for ways to be ‘radically local’ against the backdrop of globalisation. Organisers picked small, manageable projects, to be planted like seeds in public space. The race was to nurture (or care, cura) for them whilst the biennial was active so they might survive in the public consciousness when the events were over.

This speaks to the aims and objectives of research communication. We cannot control the ecosystem at large, but we can pick, design, place and care for the seeds. We cannot promise that these projects will deliver ‘active citizens’, but we do know that “…you want to be what you see.” (Quincy, 2018)