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Artist-Gardeners

Horizon scanning trends in contemporary art and artist-gardeners are becoming a more common feature. Until recently gardening in European art, even great gardens, was considered a branch of architecture and design. What has made gardening contemporary art?

The most dramatic change in the visual arts, in the last century, has been in the media and medium: from a limited range of ‘artistic materials’ to unlimited choice including ephemeral, readymade and conceptual. This expansion of artistic materials has changed art history and brought contemporary art closer to gardening. Combined with increased environmental awareness and the urgent need for a more sustainable way of living artist-gardeners are both aesthetically and politically relevant.

There are artists already working in this direction most notably the French artist and botanist Patrick Blanc. Blanc is the creator of “les murs vegetal” (vertical gardens) whose works include the vertical garden at Melbourne Central in Melbourne, Australia, 2008. And NSW artist Ken Yanetoni’s “Sweet Barrier Reef” is a Zen garden made entirely of sugar, raked sugar and icing sugar coral formations. “Sweet Barrier Reef” may not have any plants but it does involve environmental themes and eating cake covered in icing. Ken Yanetoni has been chosen to represent Australia in the satellite exhibition to be held in conjunction with the 2009 Venice Biennale.

There are also many local artist-gardeners: Dylan Martorell, Penny Algar (Orr St. Garden), Matt Shaw’s underground gardens at Platform and Patrick Jones blog Garden of Self Defence.

Artist-gardners have resonances and traces in art history that include Jeff Koon’s Puppy; the English Surrealist, Edward James’s sculpture garden Las Pozas (“the Pools”) near the village of Xilitla, Mexico; Antoni Gaudi’s art neuevaue architectural Park Güell in Barcelona; Monet’s garden at Giverny; and, further back, the famous English garden designer Capability Brown. Street art has also had an influence on the artist-gardeners with New York’s guerrilla gardeners and also in Toronto, Canada and the UK. and Eyeteeth reports on guerrilla flowerboxes by Toronto, street artist Posterchild.

The artist-gardener combines installation art, process art, sculpture, and site-specific work. They could also include, performance art and culinary arts. The future of artist-gardeners is full of great possibilities to create beauty (both natural and artificial) and a better environment. The artist-gardener combines environmental awareness with artistic exploration of new syncretic combinations of traditional and contemporary ways of living.

Combining the interest and necessity for a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, a love of gardens and food makes the artist-gardener economically sustainable. Artist-gardeners have access to multiple, meagre income streams from commissions to create public and private gardens, to art and plant product sales. There could be garden restaurants serving food grown and cooked on site. There are art materials that could be produced in a garden and manufactured in the kitchen. But I’m just throwing ideas up in the air now – I should be getting back to work on some unfinished projects in my garden.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

One response to “Artist-Gardeners

  • bg

    I think my friend Steve is a master gardener -artist (www.fromthesummersgarden.com) and I don’t know how you’d classify my art, all with plant material (www.brigidgreene.com), but I’m glad someone’s talking about it.

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