I’m taking a Coursera course about art concepts, and this week the assignment was to create an environmental installation piece. Since I had it up, photographed, and down within 10 minutes, I felt that I should share it more broadly… give it a chance to breathe, as it were. So, without further ado, Garden Party! Complete with “Artist’s Statement” as required for the course.
This installation is titled, “Garden Party.” It is an assemblage of constructed objects, most clearly in the lineage of Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades. (Edit: I’m not sure about that, but it’s the best place to put it in the limited categories I’ve encountered in this course. Which I am taking because I didn’t know anything about art. So, there you go.)
It is situated in the vegetable garden in my own yard, which I have been developing with my partner for the last 7 years. The land on which it is installed has been the source for many meals, and has hosted many parties, but this installation is designed to contrast the reality of the land with that potrayed in modern magazines and “lifestyle” gardening books. The white table cloth and place settings contrast vividly with the green and brown of the surrounding garden. The blue of the arbour (an already-existing “permanent” fixture in the landscape) is paralleled by the blue in the table cloth, and it is intended to create a feeling of invitation. Like so many of these images, the semi-formal, constructed place setting is a stage onto which we are expected to project ourselves… can you not imagine sitting at this table?
When you look more closely, though, you will see that there are no chairs. There is no food. There is no place for people in this constructed space… it exists purely for its own sake, and to show that it can be built. The set pieces also fall away (literally) after the description in Camus’ work, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. The third photo is titled, “ninety seconds” because that is how long it took after setting the table before the wind disrupted the place settings so much that the table cloth was flipped over them. I had to replace the original vase with the utensil holder from my kitchen, as the wind blew over the first attempt. Also, I want you to observe the way that the flowers bend in the same direction as the garlic plants in the foreground. This is, in fact, why the photos are not “better”, not at all by the way: the table was set up, photographed and disassembled in a 10-minute gap between the rain storms we’ve been experiencing for the entire week, and which we expect for three more days before it will be possible to work in the garden once more.
This installation is about the contrast between the messiness of the “real world” from which our food is obtained, and the ways in which it is potrayed in our culture: sanitized, clean, controlled. There is no space for dirt, or bugs, or weeds (even though that is what I used to compose the bouquet)… in fact, the more closely you look, the less the illusion works… the settings are *nearly* matched, but I couldn’t resist putting in my favourite mug, a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork created by a friend who once lived on this land with us. The desire to create this structure in the midst of the messiness of the garden is at once revealed as absurd, but human. (Also consider the fact that, immediately behind the table, you can see the same sort of futile attempt to control nature in the raised beds which I have to reconstruct every year.)
Come to think of it, it repeats a theme from a poem I wrote just over a year ago, called, “Sometimes, The Wind” https://thepracticaldilettante.com/2012/05/10/another-poem/
Sometimes, The Wind
Sometimes when I leave my home
With six things perfectly balanced,
The door is torn from my hand
And I rail.
The wind, the wind!
It is a character in our little dramas,
Played out at the hardware store,
Fingers tracing the lines
Of coveted outdoor objects.
But. The Wind. (he reminds me)
And dreams are left unpurchased,
The trappings of another life.
One unconstrained by. All. This. Wind.
Later that day,
Gazing out upon the whitecaps at play
Upon the river,
Wondering in silence how long it will be before
we lose so many pieces of the roof that we can’t ignore it
“Is it the Mistral that is said to drive people
I know the answer.
It is not a new conversation.
“Yes,” he says,
And puts his arms around me from behind,
Gazing out upon
The whitecaps at play.