Wednesday, March 06, 2002

More Reflections on Jill Cherry, the Garden and E.O. Wilson

I have just finished reading Blair's blog and he makes a good point about smaller garden movements of each era, struggling to be seen. It is true that we are only studying the broad and large garden statements of these eras, which unfairly excludes the smaller, different movements that might have been present. On the other hand, I think it is very difficult to study these smaller movements just because there is a lack of information about them. This is not to say that they were not important, only that we don't know enough about them to assess their contribution. I also agree with Blair's point that language affects how we view the garden. I blogged something of this conundrum when putting my thoughts down regarding the three gardens we visited over the weekend. Park, garden, backyard, field...what is what and to whom?

I would also like to write a few lines about E.O. Wilson, whom I went to see speak last night. Firstly, it was an amazing experience to hear such an expert speak about biodiversity, genetic engineering and conservation. Secondly, it was disappointing that he did not have time to speak more fully about these subjects. Thirdly, it was encouraging to see so many people attending and interested in these subjects. This is a guy, as Jason would say, who "gets it." He understands and might have even been the proponet of the idea that the education of women is intimately linked to environmental issues. He is also passionate about preserving biodiversity, which is an idea that sadly, too few grasp, especially those in government. It was also encouraging to hear that all is not lost. Many times when you talk to people about the environmental movement, the black clouds roll over and doom seems to dim the paths of all humans until extinction. Wilson believes, however, that if we act now it is still possible to save our natural resources. He claims that $28 billion will save all of the hottest existing ecological hotspots in the world, a figure that seems ridiculously tiny when you consider that it is just a small fraction of Bill Gates's wealth. He also believes that in a short thirty years, all species in the world will have been described using the technology and means we have available to us today!! He believes that the entire human genome will be sequenced in a matter of hours instead of the years it has taken us to date. He also brought up another good point that religion is an important part of the enviromental movement. Imagine the embarrassement, he said, of the religious community one hundred years from now, when they realize that they stood by passively while "creation" was destroyed. An apt point, for sure. A couple of points that Ivan Lee brought up though, that marred Wilson's vision of the salvation of humans. Technology and genetic engineering can only take us so far and we might be relying on it too much to rectify the damage already done. We also might be inventing new problems by introducing new technologies that could keep us forever spinning in the quicksand we seem to be stuck in. Perhaps Wilson is one of the prophets we have all been waiting for. Then again, perhaps he is just an optimist.
Nature and Art in the Garden: A Study of Attitudes to Nature and Their Projection on the Garden
Part II-Jill Cherry

After reflecting for a week on the readings and listening to the first of Jill Cherry's lectures, I am adding a few comments to my earlier blog on this article.

One of the points brought up in the reading, which I did not mention in my previous blog, is that the garden is the cultural ideal of nature. This point not only resonated throughout Jill Cherry's discussion regarding the Persian garden, the Japanese garden and the grounds of Versaille but also throughout Jens Brockmeier's and Dennis Duffy's lectures. Humans have and will continue to project cultural identities of space onto the garden. I found it incredibly interesting to see how the themes of power, subjugation, control and delusion all echoed so strongly throughout the gardens of Versaille, for example. The seriousness which Louis XIV approached his own garden was astounding. Looking at the slides last week in class, the visitor's eye is very much channelled into certain spaces and the grandness of the garden, having being seized from the wildlands that existed there before truly speaks volumes about his desire to advertise his power over France. The very existence of this garden speaks volumes about the cultural, social, economic, political and philosophical ideas that Louis XIV, his courtiers, France and Europe held during this period. I also found it interesting that the rock gardens of Japan were designed to facilitate the ascendance of humans to a higher plane of consciousness. The flow of the rocks, slopes, sand, water and vegetation is astounding. This again is a reflection of the focus of the religious community with respect to their cultural and theological ideas.

Another interesting point that I would like to reflect on is the claim by some that the garden, as an imitation of natue, is not art. Art, according to Alessandra Ponte, requires that something more be added to the garden. I can see the validity of this argument. If a garden is an exact replica of nature, does it say anything about about the artist, his or her view of society, culture or life, as I think artwork should? Imitating nature and incorporating it into human spheres in the form of a garden is appropriating something for the expression of culture. If we divorced this replica garden from other societal references, is it really a reflection of culture? If we were to find that same piece of wilderness in nature, in an area undeveloped instead of in the heart of a city, would it still mean the same thing? How large a role does context play?