The Paradoxical Garden is a collection of sculptural installations that focus on human-plant interactions in the garden to emphasise the connection between humans and their environment. Herein ‘nature’, as a human construct, and ‘culture’ are depicted as part of the same phenomenon in response to Bruno Latour’s (2011) perception that the current ecological condition is a result of a disconnect between nature and culture. The definition of garden as nature ‘improved’ by culture is questioned. Instead, Mateusz Salwa’s (2014:317) definition of the garden as a place where culture becomes nature and nature becomes culture is more appropriate. The garden is reimagined and visualised as a clear example of how ‘nature’ and culture exist in a relational web. Following a dialogical approach to making, I depict the conversations between human and plants using artistic methods such as a visual journal and watercolour sketches. Plants are portrayed as participants in the complex system of the garden instead of passive recipients of human will. The paradox of the garden is based on the idea that it is a space where relationships perceived as binary such as nature and culture; artificial and natural; and object and subject co-exist and meld into one another. In agreement with Robyn Longhurst (2006), the garden offers an opportunity to create alternative views. The Paradoxical Garden can be described as an ecological intervention in its aim to address the philosophical disconnection between nature and culture.
In The Paradoxical Garden, the artwork embodies the relationship of care that develop between a gardener and the plants in the garden. Interactions with plants based on Josephine Donovan’s (2016) understanding of care are collaborative and considerate. Both the plant and the gardener are affected; the plant by being cared for and the gardener by tending to the needs of the plant. Being influenced by the aesthetics of care and actor network theory (ANT), which gives prominence to the relationship between actors where neither human nor non-human is dominant, means that this study is relational in its approach. Rather than a medium, plants are presented as subjects with agency, who become active collaborators in The Paradoxical Garden. The plants that form The Paradoxical Garden have proved themselves to be strong-willed and resilient, resulting in three bodies of work titled Care, Co-Create and Commingle. Each body of work emphasises a different aspect of the plants’ agency through collaboration that strengthens a sense of connection with non-human nature. This sense of connection assists with the experience of being part of the environment instead of in control of it. According to Timothy Morton (2007:44), this would lead to more ecologically responsible behaviour.
Mini Dissertation (MA Fine Arts)--University of Pretoria, 2019.