50 Notes and 4 illustrations
Changes in a system never occur simultaneously. Some molecules have to jump the fence first - before the rest follow. The notes below are conceptual stepping stones (and as such are analogs to the ecological zones described by Kees Flore in his introductory text to this project - Reis van de Geest). As discontinuous points they afford the possibility for a fresh pattern to take hold and connect their intermediate space.
In these notes I describe a garden design that I have been working on over the past two years. In a search for the right structure, the elements of the idea have drifted, but the overall concept, a dialectic between artifice and the environment, has remained stable.
The next step, the making of an exhibition in Almere, marks a new departure for the project. The conceptual development must give way to the laws of physics. The landscape stops looking like an n-dimensional map and solidifies into a real space.
A LITTLE GARDEN REVISIONISM
The man-made garden has evolved through time from:
a) an imitation of a sacred grove
b) to an erotic enclosure
c) to a sanctuary from the evil world
d) to an idealization of nature e) to an idealization of culture (man's nature).
My initial proposal for the exhibition Metaphors of Space and Time, presented a year ago, was a concept for a garden entitled Cultigen Garden--A Cultural Arrangement. Cultigen Garden described mankind's flight through time and space, and his relationship to culture and nature. The proposal also compiled a list of elements to be used in the composition of the garden: large areas of asphalt, plant cultigens, a paved over pool of water containing blind cave fish, jet aircraft engines and tree trunks that had been struck by lightning.
Cultigens are plant species that have been artificially cultivated for such a long period of time that they have lost the ability to replicate themselves without man's help. Thus cultigens depend upon man's intervention for their continued survival. If the human species is taken out of the plant's reproductive loop: [mature cultigens -> man -> new cultigens -> mature cultigens], the plant species becomes extinct.
The oldest known cultigens are found in the tropical rain forests of South America. For millennia the shamans have bred plants to increase their medicinal effectiveness and potency. The man-made apples of this Eden, plants such as Brugmansia and Salvia divinorum, are products of their ancient engineering.
When you take the plants out of the garden, the space between park and parking lot disappears. During the project study day in Lelystad (Inexplicably Inhabited, 27.5.97) I decided to remove all the green from my garden plan. I decided to remove the blind cave fish as well. They seemed no longer necessary.
Concept redux for Cultigen Garden: Why not merge the garden concept with a parking lot? The parked car could become part of the aesthetic experience, part of the garden design.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH NATURE?
Why does everyone view the environment as a sick man?
We all know the threat: unless we mend our ways--our ecosystems will collapse and the world will become untenable for (human) life. We are told that in order to survive we must limit our growth and learn to strike a balance with our surroundings.
Is this true? Is nature really in bad shape? Must we preserve, protect and restore our natural resources in order to achieve planetary sustainability? Is the achievement of sustainability (biostasis, preservation of the status quo) desirable? Even natural?
I question these assumptions and the need for concern over the environment. I find the extreme consensus of opinion over the status of the environment disturbing.
Is sustainability natural? Sustainability is a fantasy where the hero, man the predator, attempts to strike a balance with his prey, the earth's 'natural' resources. Sustainability requires the leveling off (or reduction) of human population and the restoration of nature into a earlier state of equilibrium. Sustainability is a political ideology, an insurance policy we buy now against an uncertain future. Investing in sustainability is investing in long term security.
Life is a constant movement from simple to complex forms. I suggest that sustainability is neither natural nor desirable for life. Biostasis, or life standing still is the death of life.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH GREEN?
The ideology of sustainability has taken over a large part of our cultural perspective. The memes and metaphors of nature have invaded our conscience and infected our desires. Green is no longer just another color (or no longer carries its association with money). Green has become associated with concepts like: social responsibility, anti-progress and the quality of life.
Green, greener, greenest.
From a physical perspective, green in nature is produced by the presence of the chlorophyll molecule in plant tissue.
I have abandoned (for the moment) the idea of using plant cultigens in the garden. A garden does not need to be green. The term cultigen, however, still describes my purpose, to design a garden using materials and structures that are dependent on man for their replication.
So what's all this desire and nostalgia for green tissue? Is it really love or is it a phantasmagoria produced by our conscience? Is it a sign of our rejection of our culture's technological trajectory? Or is it a sign of our total confusion; a running away in the wrong direction--a return to the maw of the beast?
IF CULTURE IS OUR NATURE, WHY ARE WE RESTORING AN IDEALIZATION OF NATURE AS OUR NEW CULTURE?
A question that tries many ecologists attempting an ecosystem restoration: How far back should we go?
There are two directions out of the present: backward or forward.
Grass is always greener somewhere else. In our love for the OTHER, we recognize a desire for difference, a desire for escape from our everyday surroundings. Desire leads to movement in space and/or movement in time. In my booklet, Cultigen Garden, A Cultural Arrangement I cite Hannah Arendt writing on this subject in 1958:
For some time now, a great many scientific endeavors have been directed toward making life also "artificial," toward cutting the last tie through which even man belongs among the children of nature. It is the same desire to escape from imprisonment to the earth that is manifest in the attempt to create life in the test tube, in the desire to mix "frozen germ plasm from people of demonstrated ability under the microscope to produce superior human beings" and "to alter [their] size, shape and function"; and the wish to escape the human condition, I suspect underlies the hope to extend man's life-span far beyond the hundred-year limit.
So what's your dream for a utopian future? An equitable society? Net connected and living in a forest surrounded by nature? Bill McKibben in The End of Nature (1990), argued that nature as the OTHER is gone forever. Nature is artificial.
... If nature has already ended, what are we fighting for? Before any redwoods had been cloned or genetically improved, one could understand clearly what the fight against such tinkering was about. It was about the idea that a redwood was somehow sacred, that its fundamental identity should remain beyond our control. But once the barrier has been broken, what is the fight about then?
What will it mean to come across a rabbit in the woods after genetically engineered 'rabbits' are widespread? Why should we have any more reverence, or even affection, for such a rabbit than we would for a coke bottle?
A sad and elegant point. McKibben, however, seems to have forgotten about art. Art, the ultimate man-made product, is measured precisely by its ability to evoke reverence and affection. Works of art, by definition, are those things that we choose from human production as worth saving--worth developing. Art is form of anti-entropy. Given the right circumstances a genetically engineered rabbit or a 1969 Mercury Cougar can become a work of art.
UP THE ENTROPY SLOPE
Complex behaviors emerge from the interaction of simple patterns or behaviors.
Robert Smithson's interest in the second law of thermodynamics completely dominated his life and work. Much of his work is associated with the concept of entropy: the law that states that molecular disorder can only increase, and as such the universe will eventually run down. Smithson was particularly attracted to the inevitability of heat death. In his essay, Entropy and the New Monuments (1966), he contemplates the sublimity of ultimate failure:
The works celebrate what Flavin calls 'inactive history' or what the physicist calls 'entropy' or 'energy drain.' They bring to mind the Ice Age rather than the Golden Age, and would likely confirm Vladimir Nabokov's observation that, "The future is but the obsolete in reverse." In a rather roundabout way, many of the artists have provided a visible analog for the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which extrapolates the range of entropy by telling us energy is more easily lost than obtained, and that in the ultimate future the whole universe will burn out and be transformed into an all-encompassing sameness. The 'blackout' that covered the Northeastern states recently, may be seen as a preview of such a future. Far from creating a mood of dread, the power failure created a mood of euphoria. An almost cosmic joy swept over all the darkened cities.
Smithson's celebration of entropy and decay developed from his interest in physics and geology and reflected the scientific thinking of the late 1950's, which in the area of dynamics was still based on 19th century ideas. In 1979, six years after Smithson's death, Prigogine's Order out of Chaos introduced to physics a new dynamical paradigm to replace the old ideas. Non-linearity and self-organization offered a way of understanding the behavior of large scale processes and introduced a view of the universe and world machine as a process running up rather than down. Entropy found its counterpart: Extropy.
Smithson, as far as I know, never called his work 'gardens'. If he had, I'm sure he'd describe Tar Pool and Gravel Pit (1966) and Asphalt Rundown (1969) as "visible analogs" of entropy.
Smithson reads well backwards.
The anti-garden that I am developing, the cultigen garden without plants, is a visible analog of extropy. As such it celebrates optimism rather than pessimism, progress rather than stability, movement rather than stagnation, art rather than decay...
MATERIALISM (MATTER AND ITS MIGRATION)
Without movement Lautréamont could not have described the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.
a: Is it alive?
b: Its not moving.
a: That means its not alive.
My initial garden plan began with the careful weighing of the movement of the following materials:
[Cultigens] ancient plants that require human help to replicate.
A tree that has been struck by lightning.
Jet aircraft engines.
A paved over pond filled with blind cave fish.
This selection has now been reduced to the following:
An asphalt parking lot.
The sawn off tree trunks of a clear-cut forest.
Arrows and other direction marks painted on the street.
An automobile wreck.
Asphalt is the grass of the urban landscape. In a typical low density American suburb, more than 50 per cent of the land is covered with asphalt paving. In some areas, like downtown Los Angeles, it is more than 65 per cent.
Asphalt is a good example of artificial nature. It is a naturally occurring material. There is a 100 acre lake of asphalt near the village of La Brea in Trinidad. Like the logging of trees to make paper, the use of asphalt to pave roads has made an incalculable contribution to the rate of mankind's development over the last century and a half. Asphalt affords the driving of trucks and automobiles at much higher speeds than is possible over stone, bricks, or concrete slabs. Asphalt has afforded the rapid development of transportation through the construction of airport runways and rural roads.
Asphalt is a very sensuous material.
Dorian Sagan in Biospheres (1990) describes the life-like quality of material migration:
When life is subsumed under the category of geology, continental drift, radical as it once was, becomes less so. For not only the tectonic movements of continents but the thousands of passengers traveling by air at any moment, the continental swarms of automobiles, the orbiting spinning satellites--all life and technology--also come under the heading of geology. We are bits of matter that have come detached from the earth and are moving around. And if we believe Vernadsky's second biogeochemical principle, the rate of movement is increasing dramatically as we move forward in evolutionary time.
Sagan continues with an example of the flow of minerals from one place to another in a cloud of locusts:
Geochemically, a swarm of locusts is the point of transformation of one section of the biosphere into another. It is a flying mountain. In 1890, G. T. Carruthers calculated that the weight of a swarm of locusts, documented to have covered the sky for two days and a night, was 44 million tons. The plague of locusts descended on the then fertile Mesopotamian fields, devouring everything, and then flew to Ethiopia. This quantity of transported mass equals all the zinc and copper mined throughout the nineteenth century.
THE SPACE BETWEEN THE PARKING LOT AND THE PARK
The parking lot comes in two cultural forms: one private, the other public. The private enclave can be further divided into two distinct species: one where each space is reserved for a particular vehicle (or driver) and the other where any 'lawful' driver can park in any free space.
To the newly arrived, a full parking lot is useless and an empty parking lot gives rise to suspicion.
Parking lots are often maligned as a necessary evil. People don't like them. Parking lots are considered eye-sores and (for that reason) are hidden underground or placed as far as possible from the locations of human activity. Whether we like it or not, parking lots do afford a great variety of social behavior. The humanist architect Christopher Alexander acknowledges this in A Pattern Language:
A great deal of everyday social life occurs where cars and pedestrians meet. In Lima, for example, the car is used as an extension of the house: men, especially, often sit in parked cars, near their houses, drinking beer and talking. Children play in parking lots--perhaps because they sense that this is the main point of arrival and departure; and of course because they like cars.
Parking lots are like the ecological stepping stones mentioned in Kees Flore's introduction to this project, Reis van de Geest. Parking lots are to beads what roads are to strings.
In de jaren '60 is Nederland helemaal vol gebouwd met een systeem van snelwegen. Die zijn er lang niet allemaal gekomen maar in de polders zijn nog wel een aantal lijnen terug te vinden die hiervoor gereserveerd zijn in het Streekplan Flevoland. Die reserveringen ten behoeve van vekeersdoeleinden zouden een functie kunnen krijgen voor de ecologie. Deze gebieden kunnen een rol spelen als verbindende schakel in een netwerk van natuurgebieden. Veelal betreft het hier lijnvormige elementen die verschillende 'kerngebieden' met elkaar verbinden. Deze verbindingen spelen een rol in de uitwisseling van organismen tussen de kerngebieden en dienen daarom te worden gehandhaafd of ontwikkeld.
In sommige gevallen kan het ook gaan om de aanwezigheid van 'stepping stones', dat wil zeggen min of meer op zichzelf staande gebiedjes, die als verblijfplaats een rol kunnen spelen en van waaruit de verschillende organismen zich kunnen verspreiden.
Parking lots are points of rest in the movement of metal and plastic.
A garden is a region of fertility, a breeding ground for all kinds of replicators.
Someone recently told me about a television program over insects in Africa. Apparently the thousands of truck and automobile tires that litter the sides of the roads and highways have created a new niche for malaria mosquitoes. The unique shape of the black rubber tire retains rain water much longer than natural pools and puddles on the ground. Generously warmed by the sun, the tires extend the mosquitoes normal habitat into areas normally too cold or too dry for them to survive.
For the exhibition in Almere, I propose to construct a model of my garden in the existing parking lot of the De Paviljoens. To realize this work I require approximately Hfl. 30.000, of which Hfl. 7.000 would be honorarium. There is no reason why the work could not have a semi-permanent character.
Down a-long the coastal way,
Down a-long in a little bay,
Lies the crumble car.
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Last modified: 5/2/00; 09:11:45 CET