By means of an introduction
The garden has appealed to the imagination for millennia. It is a place we associate with the harmonic idyll of nature, where the cycle of life is expressed, and where we can withdraw from our everyday concerns.
On the Necessity of Gardening tells the story of the garden as a fertile source of inspiration for artists. Over the centuries, artists, writers, poets and philosophers have described, depicted and designed the garden in an infinite variety of ways. The leading Dutch poet and critic Gerrit Komrij (1944-2012), from whose 1990 Huizinga Lecture the exhibition’s title is taken, described how for centuries the image of the garden has been closely interwoven with ideological developments and struggles between worldviews.
In medieval art, the garden was a reflection of paradise, a place of harmony and fertility, shielded from worldly problems. In the eighteenth century this image was overturned: the garden became a symbol of worldly power, politics and man’s ability to shape nature according to his will. ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin’ (‘We must cultivate our garden’), Voltaire wrote in 1759. His intention was clear: we must tend to society - which is by no means a paradise - so that it becomes liveable; we must take it upon ourselves to make something of the world and of our lives. Today we are more critical of mankind’s influence on the natural world. We live in the Anthropocene Epoch, an era in which man completely dominates nature, with disastrous consequences. The pandemic that has stricken us forces us to undertake a radical review of the images we have projected onto nature in recent decades.
There has been a renewed interest in the garden among contemporary artists. Central to their examination of this theme is no longer a romantic longing but the call for a new awareness of our relationship to the earth. They pay attention not only to the dystopian aspects - the ecological crisis, our exploitative (colonial) attitude towards land, climate refugees, etc. - but also to the utopian aspects, such as the flourishing of allotments, small-scale local initiatives, a slowed experience of time, and alternative (queer) forms of ecology.
[Translation by Gerard Forde]