Jardins d’amis – Gate in Ruin (SAN), 2013, duration: 8′., produced in HD
Film-documentation on the construction of the garden-artwork and on the background of its development
Production: Sirocco Productions, music: Dorothée Munyaneza, Marseille
Working with the idea of the historical English Landscape Garden, where ruins often had critical political impacts expressing the rebellious opinion of the garden-owners through architectonical representations of a “better past”, I have constructed an artificial ruin titled “Jardins d’amis – The Gate in Ruin (SAN)”. Oscillating between a sculpture, a garden-architecture and text written on the ground. I am taking a wider perspective, though, going back to our origin, not only to the Western world’s origin, but to the “Cradle of Humankind”, in particular to our DNA and in consequence to the SAN people. They are supposed to be the first branch of the human genealogical tree from which all other modern humans have spread over the globe. My research on the SAN people has led to a deepened understanding of the contradiction of their place as our genetic origin and the racist treatment of the few surviving SAN groups pushed to the Kalahari-Desert.
I emphasize these contradictions by “writing” the word “S A N” in two different ways on the red African soil, with architecture and light, gaining and loosing its readability as the visitor and the sunlight are moving on. As for the architecture, its three letters “S A N” are built out of used construction-material, natural stones from the bushland around and specific plants chosen by gardeners of the foundation (Michael Mlaula and others) who have helped to build the art-work. Whereas the owner was involved in the conception of the work, I have invited the gardeners to participate in the construction and the planting. Their participation is part of the concept of the creation and they are invited to take care of the work and the plants now and in the future. The sculpture forming a gate between the garden and the wilderness, refers in multiple ways to the history of the site and gives the landscape and garden an active role. It also stands between the gardeners’ and the owner’s living spaces as a passage from one side to the other – physically and socially.
The word “S A N” falls apart into three elements – a bench, a pyramid and two columns. The “S” can be used as a bench. Historically, the curved line represents one of the most influential aesthetic categories in eighteenth-century garden art and was opposed to the stiff authority of the French baroque garden. In the contemporary context of this installation, the dynamic and liberal serpentine construction creates a space to sit and have a visual connection from the wilderness to the lush gardens, but also a place of communication on an even level between people of different backgrounds.
The “A” is a pyramid, an ancient symbolic form derived from Egyptian culture. As a garden folly it can be found in many eighteenth-century gardens. It was then believed to be the symbol of the origin of humankind and to represent a connection to the spiritual world. It also constitutes the culmination point of the Masonic initiation path that used to be built in the Romantic picturesque garden with a series of different garden-follies. It refers here to the healing dimension of nature and of this particular site, but also to the “frozen sunbeams” of the four pyramid corners, linking European and African culture on the common ground of ancient Egyptian history.
The word “S A N” is also “written” by the rising sun on the soil inside the pyramid, the letters getting smaller and smaller as the light travels through the day. This symbolises the San people – as all human DNA is said to lead back to them – and reveals the contradiction between the scornful, racist treatment of the San and their importance for South African identity – indeed for the identity of all humankind.
Two broken columns form the “N”. Columns are the most important structural device in Western architecture – from ancient Greece, through the Renaissance, to the early twentieth century. Broken and fallen columns, suggesting the passage of time, are also to be found in the landscaped garden. In this context they allude to the famous park of Ermenonville near Paris, designed by René Louis de Girardin. In the park’s Temple of Modern Philosophy by Hubert Robert each column represents a philosopher or scientist. The two broken columns here – found, kitsch objects in the “colonial” style – ironically question the identity of the “right” African philosophy.