(P058)
Making and Growing: the art of gardens
Location SOAS Senate House - S108
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Lissant Bolton (British Museum) email
  • Jean Mitchell (University of Prince Edward Island) email

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Short abstract

In many places people invest creativity into making their food growing - their gardens and fields - into works of art, committing energy into making the utilitarian beautiful. This session investigates the significance of these forms of creation.

Long abstract

In many places people invest creativity into making gardens and growing food. Gardens and fields grow into works of art through the energy directed into making them beautiful. This session investigates the significance that underlies these processes by asking: how can studies of gardens contribute both ethnographically and theoretically to rethinking the aesthetics of daily life? Ingold and Hallam have suggested that material culture has privileged making over growing and that attending to artefacts has overshadowed organisms. This panel considers their contention through a series of questions. What are the relations between art and growing? To what extent are gardens, fields and orchards made beautiful, how much are they intended to provide aesthetic satisfaction? What kinds or forms of agencies, selves and relationships are at work in making/growing gardens? Are there alternative ways of knowing and doing that bring art and gardens into the same frame? How do ideas of difference embedded in human and nonhuman, material and spirit, rural and urban, invasive and exotic plants and so on shape gardens? How does the environment or more specifically weather, trees, soil, microbes humans and other animals enable and/or constrain the artful making and growing of gardens? We invite papers that consider art and making and growing gardens, fields, orchards and more.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"Awakening the Stones" : Taro Becoming Ship and the Niel Exchange in Tanna, Vanuatu

Author: Jean Mitchell (University of Prince Edward Island) email

Short abstract

In this paper I explore the relational aesthetics of the sculpture of the taro ship in the 2017 Niel exchange in Tanna by analyzing how the taro ship materializes cosmologies that privilege growing, aesthetics and the cultivation of particular kinds of selves.

Long abstract

In 2017 Tannese islanders from six upland villages sculpted more than 50,000 taro into a large ship for the Niel, a foundational exchange that "feeds" allies, evokes past mobility and equality. The aesthetic power of the ship drew thousands of spectators before and during the exchange. In this Niel ceremony the taro were swapped for yam from six coastal villages. Closely allied, taro and yam are sensitive actors/selves whose lives are entangled in relational worlds of humans and non-humans including magical stones, weather, whales, trees and more. Growing yam and taro is artful work in which gardeners and plants are mutually engaged in promoting growth. Rules and aesthetic practices are attached to all aspects of growing − planting, tending, harvesting, storing and sharing. There is, however, anxiety that such knowledge is now disappearing. Those sculpting the taro ship told me that their art was directed by taro for the ship was designed to "awaken the stones" that coalesce agrarian fertility that cultivates particular kinds of selves. In this paper I ask: How did the taro ship materialize cosmologies that evoke knowledge and practices of growing? How is taro becoming a ship related to growing? How do taro do aesthetics? Does taro becoming a ship encompass a moral economy made visible in the Niel? How do the relational aesthetics of the Niel connect the everyday and the ritual spectacle of the Niel through knowing and doing?

Cassava Spirit and the Seed of History: Multispecies aesthetics and the cosmology of gardens in Amazonian Guyana

Author: Lewis Daly (University College London) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the cosmology of gardens among the Makushi people of Amazonian Guyana. Via a study of Makushi gardening, I show how indigenous notions of aesthetics are understood in "multispecies" terms, emerging from the cross-species encounters that constitute the diverse world of the garden.

Long abstract

This paper explores the cosmology of gardens among the indigenous Makushi people of Amazonian Guyana. The Makushi are subsistence hunters, fishers, and farmers, and as such interact with other kinds of beings in every dimension of their daily lives. They are expert horticulturalists, in that they exhibit and utilise specialised knowledge and techniques relating to the ecology of cultivated plants - most notably, the staple crop bitter cassava (kîse). Cast in the light of innumerable shades of green and adorned with flower beds and ornamental shrubs, gardens (mîî) are places of "great beauty" in which socio-ecological relations are forged in the creative processes of shared selfhood. By taking a "multispecies" (Ingold 2013; Tsing 2015) approach to gardening, I will show how - for the Makushi - "beauty" is a value that emerges not from solely from human considerations, but, rather, in the interaction between humans and other kinds of beings (animal, plant, spirit). This requires an analysis of vernacular concepts of growth, maturation, and diversity - notions which are themselves rooted in mythic history and ethno-theories of life. I employ an ecosemiotic approach to cross-species relations (Kohn 2013), in order to illustrate how Makushi engagements with the dazzlingly diverse world of the garden are made sense of in semiotic terms - that is, via the idiom of signs and representation.

Social Ecologies of Plant Cultivation in Amazonian Peru

Author: Tracy Brannstrom (University of California, Berkeley) email

Short abstract

This paper examines two distinct sites in which gardens are created, utilized and imagined in urban and rural areas of the Peruvian Amazon.

Long abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in and near Iquitos, Peru, I draw on interviews and observations with folk practitioners who make use of gardens in preparing medicinal plant and food preparations for their communities, as well as Peruvian researchers who source plants from cultivated spaces in projects of scientific investigation and drug development at the Institute of Traditional Medicine. Although identical plants are approached in these contrasting sites, the sociality surrounding them varies wildly; I ask, how do aesthetics, materialities and epistemologies related to these sites and their plants differ, and how do they overlap? What relationships, knowledges and institutional practices shape how these gardens are constructed and experienced? In each site, how are plants cultivated intentionally, as spaces of practicality as well as creative and artistic works for display? This presentation employs visual documentation such as photographs, video and audio recordings to tell the story of two sites in which plants are cultivated in the Northwestern Amazon.

Above and Below: Abulës ("Abelam") Gardens as Generative Surfaces

Author: Ludovic Coupaye (University College London) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the ways in which plants behaviours and treatment in Abulës-Speakers gardens indicates them as crucial space of transformation and reproduction of social life.

Long abstract

Classical analyses of gardens often privilege a perspective based on these spaces as being "horizontally" related to other spaces, such as villages, forests, cultivated or uncultivated areas in a "horizontal" way. However, what happens when we also investigate them in terms of "vertical" relations? This paper is an exploration of Abulës-Speakers ("Abelam") long (Dioscorea alata) and short (D. esculenta) yams gardens through the behaviours of plants and the ways gardeners engage with them. Within an Abulës cosmology, as delineated in architecture, visual representational systems, kinship system, and some recurring terms in everyday discourses, gardens appear as a crucial interface for the reproduction of social life of both humans and non-humans.

"We grow, like tubers, our feet planted in the thick mud of the iridescent water taro garden": social implications of garden's growth and aesthetics in Melanesia.

Author: Candice Roze (Academia Sinica) email

Short abstract

In Melanesia, horticultural gardens have often been described as works of art while magic has long been an important aspect of gardening processes, success and beauty. But what about gardens without magic? This paper discusses the relation between social processes of growth and gardens' aesthetics.

Long abstract

Geographer Joël Bonnemaison, in his article "Magic gardens in Tanna" (Vanuatu), described the planting of ceremonial yam gardens as "something of a work of art". He was not the first nor the last to use such an expression to characterise horticultural gardens in Melanesia. Yet, as most ethnographers also pointed out, the aesthetics of gardens was not the mere result of a taste for ornament but rather was the manifestation of important technical and social aspects entering gardening processes. Hence, magic and the respect of taboos often appeared as important factors in the success and the resulting beauty of these gardens. In the Christian village of Tasiriki on the island of Santo, Vanuatu, people do not practice garden magic anymore, yet I too was struck by the beauty of the gardens. Later on, in a poem ending by the description of a water taro garden, I drew analogies deeply embedded in my perception of the place and its sociality, subjectively capturing their aesthetics. Yet, would I think of Tasiriki gardens as works of art? The definition of the concepts of "art", "aesthetics" and "beauty", their mutual relationships, cultural bias and cross-cultural pertinence as well as their embeddedness in social processes have long been debated in anthropology. This panel further invites us to consider these concepts in relation to gardening. Drawing on my own fieldwork as well as other works of Melanesian ethnography on gardens, I do so by considering the aesthetics of growth and its relevance in people's daily life.

Gardens as Instances of Growth, Time and Value: cases from North Vanuatu

Author: Carlos Mondragon (El Colegio de México) email

Short abstract

This paper takes gardens in the Torres Islands, North Vanuatu, as instantiations of broader ideas about growth, creation, and temporality in a small island society. The aim is to think about effort and growth in holistic frames.

Long abstract

In this paper I will discuss the concept of growth and temporality in the Torres Islands, Vanuatu, through the lens of gardening. I want to explore key ideas of growth, process, beauty and temporality by focusing on how the members of this small island society give shape to their main food-producing spaces. I am especially interested in viewing gardens as instantiations of broader processes of human-environmental transformation. I also want to direct my exploration towards a discussion of local ideas about making things, about manufacturing in the strict sense of the term (as in things made with the hands, Lat. 'manus'). Thus, I hope to employ gardening, in the sense of humanised landscaping, as a point of entry to a discussion about broader, holistic frames for thinking about environment, temporality, creation and value.I will draw on contributions to environmental anthropology and historical ecology which highlight social process, materiality, and transformation.

Wandering Through the Humanist Ideals of Filarete's Labyrinth Garden

Author: Jesse Rafeiro (Carleton University) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the journey and revelatory influence of the labyrinth garden in Filarete's ideal city of Sforzinda from the "Libro Architettonico" in the fifteen century. Specifically questioned is the role of the garden as a microcosm for the social body of the ideal humanist city.

Long abstract

Written between 1461-63, Filarete's "Libro Architettonico" depicts the ideal city of Sforzinda, the first ideal city conceived by an architect in the Western tradition. The treatise discloses principles of an ideal humanist society through the revival of many ancient Greek and Eastern building principles and typologies. The labyrinth and garden are two recurring examples of this throughout the text where together they are reinvented in the design for the Plusiapolis palace complex. Here, the new typology serves the role of a microcosm of man in the cosmos. The central palace complex has multiple garden terraces filled with a highly organized plant and statue program surrounded by a circular moat of water and an elaborate labyrinth through which the visitor must pass. Unique to this treatise, this peculiar and under-acknowledged design appears within a period of the theory of architecture where gardens were first being discussed in parallel to the art of building by seminal figures such as Leon Battista Alberti. Though not built during Filarete's lifetime many labyrinth gardens were later built between the fifteenth and eighteenth century. This paper explores the journey and the revelatory influence of the labyrinth garden within this early modern period and specifically questions what role the palace as a microcosm was meant to fulfill for the social body of Filarete's idealist city. The paper will analyze how the garden and labyrinth are regarded throughout the treatise in a more general sense and to what extent ancient sources such may have supplied influence.

From the modernist landscaping to the woods inside the white cube: stories of the Brazilian arts around plants and vegetables

Author: Guilherme Giufrida (State University of Campinas) email

Short abstract

This proposal aims to develop a dialogue between the meanings of Burle Marx's work and recent works in contemporary art, especially Brazilian visual arts, by some called 'living arts', specially to understand, by this narrative, how the boundaries between art and gardening are being delineated.

Long abstract

Burle Marx, the best-known Brazilian landscape designer, was responsible for incorporating the tropical nature into the architetonic program of the Brazilian modernism. His aesthetic inventions are presented in works by Oscar Niemeyer, Lucio Costa, among others, and his creations are known by the general public, inside and outside Brazil, especially on urban scales.

Recently, new perspectives around the Anthropocene, especially scientific ones, populate the conceptions and practices of contemporary artists. The last São Paulo Biennial brought some artists who incorporated living matter (especially plants and vegetables) into works of art, under the conception of the german curator Jochen Volz. Volz wrote on his curatorial text published on the catalogue that the exhibition have been 'built as a garden, where themes and ideas are loosely woven into a integrated whole, structurated in layers, the attempt of ecology itself'.

In this presentation, I propose a comparative dialogue between the meanings of Burle Marx's work and the recent movement in contemporary art, especially Brazilian visual arts, by some called 'living arts'. In this case, I intend to analyze the works of Cristiano Lenhardt, Carla Felipe, Jorge Mena Barreto, and how they incorporate as part of their work weeds, tuber growth, and food made with unusual vegetables.

What does the approach of artists from two different historical moments help us look at the paths of art and society? How the boundaries between art and gardening are beeing delineated? How these works in question shift the object of art and anthropology?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.