An overview of all works of the exhibition Garden of Earthly Delights
For centuries, artists have been working with the theme of the garden as a place of inspiration and critical reflection. In today’s world dominated by radical climate change and migratory movements, our thinking about the garden has also become more political.
Artists use the garden as a poetic form of expression to reflect upon the complex contexts of a chaotic and increasingly precarious present against the backdrop of migration, climate change, colonisation, globalisation, capitalism and gentrification. The motif of the garden can be seen as an extended metaphor for the state of the world. The title of the exhibition refers to Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastically futuristic triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights from the late 15th century. The show is inspired by the painting’s diametric conceptual approach that links pleasure and pain. In a radical way, Bosch creates a vision between heaven and hell of an eternally sin-free Garden of Eden populated by humans, animals and plants. In addition to the classic reading of the garden as a self-contained and enclosed place of longing replete with meditative, spiritual and philosophical possibilities, the exhibition shows the garden as a place of duality and contradiction: as a transitional realm between reality and fantasy, utopia and dystopia, harmony and chaos, eros and perversion, naturalness and artificiality, and exclusion and inclusion — a paradise in which in the threat of expulsion is inherently felt.
School of Hieronymus Bosch
The Garden of Earthly Delights
The Garden of Earthly Delights presents a vast and fantastic landscape. It bustles with flying fish, people intertwined with fruits or inside shells entangled with each other, among oversized birds feeding naked human figures. The colours and depiction appeal to all of the senses – touch and scent are conveyed just as much as a soundscape of noises formed from nature, humans and animals thronging together.
Much of what takes place in this garden seems to evoke a paradisiacal state. The characters are free to satisfy their desires. The title of this exhibition Garden of Earthly Delights refers to Hieronymus Bosch’s eponymous triptych, the central panel of which can be seen here. This show is pervaded by the diametric conceptual approach that Bosch chose for his masterpiece: heaven and hell, and pleasure and pain are closely linked in this work. The central panel depicts a dance in which the norms of guilt and punishment are rejected. The coming together of humans and animals presents an alternative reality that is freed from supposed opposites.
The central panel in particular shows strikingly how closely Bosch’s treatment of the subject matter is linked to the political events of his time: with the rise of humanistic thinking, the concept of a paradise without a fall from grace now fell within the bounds of the conceivable , a meadow of delights. Many viewers have interpreted this depiction as such. In addition, the bizarre scene with its fantastic creatures seems to be inspired by the spirit of an age when European colonialists travelled throughout the world, in search of specimens and objects to bring back to Europe.
The concept of the garden goes back to the ancient Persian term pairidaeza, derived from pairi (around) and daeza (wall). This defines the garden as an enclosed, protected and protective space. As far back as c. 600 BCE, the term already referred to gardens with walls protecting their interiors in desert regions. Rippling streams, shade and birdsong were such a memorable experience for their visitors that they still influence present-day conceptions of paradise.
The carpet shows such a paradise garden from a bird’s-eye view. Geometrically arranged watercourses give rise to a structure of rectangular beds nurturing an abundance of trees and plants. The carpet repeats a garden form known as Chahar Bagh several times in succession. A Chahar Bagh consists of four streams in a cruciform arrangement that distribute water evenly in the garden. These streams can also be read as a reference to the four rivers of paradise described in the Qur’an. This garden form is therefore both practical and symbolic. There is a close relationship between these gardens and carpets. In summer, the carpets in the garden are a place to sit and rest. In winter, they are taken indoors for their protection and so bring the garden into the interior. In some Chahar Bagh gardens the beds are even sunk into the ground and resemble huge garden carpets themselves. Carpets depicting the Chahar Bagh dating back to the 17th century still exist today.
Mesocosmic Indoor Overture
Pride of place in this installation is enjoyed by the skunk cabbage, a plant with lurid yellow flowers that is not native to Germany. It can be seen on the three screens facing the interior of the installation. In nature, its flowers emit a smell reminiscent of rotting meat. Their tendency to attract carrion flies is a reminder of impermanence.
In Phillipson’s videos, the yellow flowers have digital eyes that follow how the new emerges from the decomposed. Worms transform biological material by composting it and excreting humus in which seeds germinate. Fire and nutritive ash also occur in Phillipson’s circles of life, death and recycling, which we experience together with the skunk cabbage.
Phillipson feels attracted to the garden as a thought experiment. And so she designs it as a so-called mesocosmos — an experimental set-up that explores how life might look after climate change. Only a few human forms are still in evidence here. In order to survive, people themselves would have to become compost. This is the only way they can enter into fertile relations with other life forms and survive in the world following the Mesocosmic Indoor Overture.
“Not much is living in my garden. Except the digital rendering of compost and its fabricators – earthworms, glitching and busy, turning bodies into humus into bodies […]. This could be you – getting chewed, shat out, reconstituted as who knows what.”
— Heather Phillipson
Where R = Ryoanji
The starting point of this work is the Zen garden of the Buddhist temple Ryōan-ji, Temple of the Dragon at Peace. It is famous for its rock garden, a 250 square metre enclosed rectangular space in which fifteen differently shaped stones are placed individually or in small groups on fine white gravel.
For his drawings and compositions Cage also worked with fifteen stones. He put them one after the other on a blank sheet of paper and drew their outlines with a pencil. The paper is an empty space upon which the lines hover, just as the gravel can be read as an empty space on which the stones of the actual garden are arranged.
The shape of the stones dictates the musical composition, with the traced edges of the stones becoming notation. In the score their curves denote glissandi, pitches sliding up and down. Percussion instruments convert the empty space of the gravel and the paper into background sound.
Theatrum Botanicum is a series of works that views the botanical world as a political stage. Starting from the two perspectives of South Africa and Europe, the project interviews plants as witnesses. Across different regions and continents, stories and systems, they are actors linking nature and people, rural and cosmopolitan medicine as well as tradition and modernity.
The group of works repeatedly refers to specific places, such as the garden created by Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates in Robben Island Prison, which tell of the legacies of colonialism, biopiracy, apartheid and the role of classifying and naming plants. The plants appearing in Theatrum Botanicum include Mandela’s Gold, a yellow bird of paradise flower that was named as a tribute to the first Black president of South Africa. In the garden, chicken wire is necessary to protect this symbol of freedom from destruction by squirrels that were imported from Europe. The panorama of narratives also includes the geranium, which can be seen routinely on Swiss postcards as a supposedly native plant, but in fact first came to Europe on board the ships of the Dutch East India Company.
La Notte di San Lorenzo
The floor of this room is covered with terracotta tiles showing lemon imprints. The fruits grow in Leotta’s garden, a rectangular plot in Sicily. Surrounded by a dry stone wall, the garden blends into its surroundings between the sea and the foot of Mount Etna.
During the harvest season for Italian lemons, Leotta grouped unfired tiles around the trunks of his trees and kept them moist every day. Over a period of several months, the lemons fell and imprinted their respective shapes into the surface of the terracotta. Laid out in the Gropius Bau, this creates a visual echo of the falling fruit. Leotta is interested in the garden as a place where human actions generate direct responses from nature. However, by deliberately not harvesting the fruit, but waiting for it to fall of its own accord, he enters into a particularly sensitive relationship with the garden, which becomes poetically visible in the landscape of the tiles.
“During a period of research on Kastelorizo in Greece, my days were punctuated by the sound of fruits falling from the tree that overlooked the courtyard of the house where I was staying. I simply noted this phenomenon related to gravity and imagined a Newtonian landscape, in which each falling fruit is associated with the birth of an idea or thought. Subsequently, I started working on my first attempt to make a recording by using uncooked clay tablets and envisaging an endless garden as the sum of space and time in a particular stretch of land.”
— Renato Leotta
Wild Relatives; Water-Arm Series
Manna’s works examine the erasures inherent in scientific preservation practices. Her films and sculptures go beyond the false binary of pure and unchanging heritage, and an unconditional embrace of modernisation. They unpack the ideologies behind global networks, in this case, those involved in supplying gardens and fields with seeds and water.
The Water-Arm Series proposes bodies as infrastructure in an unstable or incomplete system. The ceramic pipes resemble elements of irrigation or drainage network, as well as limbs and metabolic systems, which too find themselves in increasingly unstable environments.
Wild Relatives follows a transaction of seeds between Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. The link between these geographies is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a backup facility for over 1700 food crop gene banks from across the world. With the Syrian Revolution escalating into a state of war in 2012, an international agricultural research centre was forced to relocate from Aleppo to the Bekaa Valley.
Unable to transfer its gene bank, the centre decided to create a duplicate, by withdrawing backup seeds from Svalbard, and laboriously planting, harvesting and freezing their collection anew. Following the seeds’ journey, Wild Relatives captures the articulation between this large-scale international initiative and its local implementation in Lebanon.
“Gardens are places where multiple species interact, where law and order get undermined by unruly forces and slippages appear as consistent as the attempted control. Since modern times and before, gardens have been a manifestation of civilising missions: a place between rationality and fantasy, where the domestication of the wild is staged and aestheticized.”
— Jumana Manna
2018 HD Video 64 Min. 64 min
Writer, director, producer Jumana Manna
Director of photography Marte Vold
Editor Katrin Ebersohn
Co-producer Elisabeth Kleppe (Aldeles AS)
Sound recording Rawad Hobeika
Sound design and mix Philippe Ciompi and Jochen Jezussek
Composer Mari Kvein Brunvoll
The Water-Arm Series
2019 L-section / Ceramics, bricks, pipe clamps
Master / Ceramics, bricks, pipe clamps
T-section / Ceramics, bricks, pipe clamps
Apostrophe / Ceramics, pipe clamps
Apostrophe II / Ceramics, pipe clamps Unit
Commissioned by the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin and produced with the help of NCAD’s Ceramics Department and IMMA Courtesy die Künstlerin the artist Zitat aus dem Ausstellungskatalog, 2019 Quotation from the exhibition catalogue, 2019
Courtesy the artist
In this installation the sharp edges of broken Coke bottles form a lawn. Gqunta’s Lawn I is dangerous, for, far from being inviting, it is an area of green that on direct contact cuts and injures. As its starting point this installation takes gardens in South Africa that are shut off from the outside world.
Residents attach broken bottles to their garden fences and walls to keep others out: mainly targeted are members of Black communities. Their only access to such gardens is to work there, so even a simple patch of green lawn becomes a symbol of structural oppression and exclusion.
In an earlier showing, the acrid stench of petroleum in Lawn I excluded the garden as being a place of relaxation. With the smell of a Molotov cocktail and the aggressive quality of a patch of greenery, the installation speaks of how the garden in South Africa symbolises social distinctions and discriminatory power relations between Blacks and whites, and poor and rich residents. The garden breaks up urban spaces, excludes people and poisons the everyday coexistence of different communities.
“We have been erased from the history of our land which has resulted in things like gardens and lawns being markers of unattainable luxury. These markers are a constant reminder of the racial oppression of black South Africans forced to work tirelessly with little pay to maintain and nurture the very spaces they will never get to enjoy.”
— Lungiswa Gqunta
Homo Sapiens Sapiens
Homo Sapiens Sapiens is the paradisiacal vision of a garden with rich colours and atmospheric sounds that invites viewers to lose themselves in its midst. Naked and with all their senses, two Eves discover this Garden of Eden, where everything seems boundless: its sheer infinite natural abundance and the joy of its discovery. This paradise equally knows no bounds spatially. In their freedom, the two women move through unknown expanses full of delight.
The naivety, with which this world is experienced, indicates that in this Eden, the fall of humanity has been eliminated. Everything can be seen and touched. The two Eves take pleasure in every detail of their surroundings. The camera’s gaze also often dwells on bodies, fruits and plants in intimate closeups. Thus, in this world of experience, the garden’s boundary itself,as something “otherly” surrounding humankind, dissolve.
“Anything growing out of the plastic box between carefully tended flower cakes and sprawling bushes, between laboriously irrigated fields and seedlings, has to do with gardens in a broader sense. Between earthly paradise and monotonous buffer strips, between small-town balcony boxes, single-family leisure parks in agglomerations and the cottage garden managed for self-sufficiency, the garden covers a broad spectrum of meaning. It’s the countless real gardens that have fused together over time into a concept.” — Pipilotti Rist and Grill 5
Desert Garden; Stamens & Petals; Waterplanten; Berlin Garden; Conservatory; Garden Detail; Liane; Plants and Patterns
Maaike Schoorel produces paintings that invite sustained contemplation. She is interested in the way we approach images and objects, look at them and process them. In these new works she dedicates herself to garden motifs.
On the basis of her study of the science of perception and the way in which the human mind grasps the visual world, her images initially seem abstract and unrepresentational, yet, on closer inspection, familiar figures and forms appear on the canvas. Like an image in the mind’s eye, flowers and plants emerge in the paintings in broad, hazy landscapes. They seem to fade into these landscapes, a phenomenon that for the artist is also a reference to the vanishing diversity of species in nature. Sometimes, even after prolonged scrutiny, we fail to discover concrete forms in these paintings, and then entire garden worlds open up before us. The question arises as to what can be contained in that which is tiny, like seeds, which are the tiny origins of whole gardens.
Schoorel’s paintings are inspired by images of real gardens as well as plant ornaments that she has found in the Gropius Bau’s interior architecture.
“Gardens are in flux, depending on the light a garden changes constantly. A garden is similar to the process of painting. All the various marks and gestures, texture and colour on the canvas together create a similar experience of looking at a garden. A brushstroke from the edge of a stem moves upwards and touches on a different texture of the leaf of a flower, these marks together in its context of the space form the shape of a flower within a garden.”
— Maaike Schoorel
The film accompanies the poet and translator Michael Hamburger in his garden and in his study that is practically invaded by nature, which seems to be welcomed by the house’s interior. Dean originally visited Hamburger to talk to him about his translations of the works of the writer W.G. Sebald and his own past. To avoid memories of his escape from Nazi Germany, Hamburger spoke of the origins of the apples in his orchard and their hybridisation.
In the film, he tenderly describes each apple and its origin, the routes they have already taken and how their names have changed depending on the grower and place — thus echoing the story of emigration within Europe. The apples and his orchard become metaphors through which Hamburger translates his own life story. The film’s slow narrative dwells on individual scenes at a pace reminiscent of the drifting and lingering gaze surveying a garden.
“Michael’s Suffolk garden was so fecund that one only had to throw an apple core out of the window and it sprung up as a tree. His orchard was cultivated in the most part from seeds, as he eschewed grafting as a method and preferred to extract the pips and plant them himself. He spent his days preserving and cultivating many varieties of apples, some long out of favour or wilfully forgotten by the commercial world. His orchard was an encyclopaedia of apples, a resource for both the horticulturalist and the poet.”
— Tacita Dean
Ngali Ngariba (We talk)
This installation brings together plants that were transplanted from the Australian landscape to the greenhouses of the “Old World” of Europe in connection with the European voyages of exploration of the “New World”. Harward explores this process of alienation and shows how the beds in the botanical garden serve as catalogues of dominated lands and flora.
She takes this alienation of plants a step further by enclosing each plant individually in a glass vessel and exposing it to further isolation in the exhibition context. Harward thus alludes to the history of the colonisation of Australia.
The plants are part of indigenous cultures in which the concept of controlling land and living beings does not exist. The plants speak the dying languages of the areas in which they originally grow. “Why am I here?” they seem to ask visitors as much as they ask themselves. The claim that Australia was a no man’s land when British explorers landed on the coast of Australia in 1788 is thus exposed by Harward as being a fiction.
“A botanical garden is an alien concept in First Nations culture. In our culture, we belong country, where all things are interrelated, and nature and culture co-evolve. First Nation Peoples listen to plants and plants listen to us.”
— Libby Harward
In the atrium, Johnson has organised a multitude of objects and plants in a grid-like structure to form a lush ecosystem. Standardised and domesticated potted plants raise the issue of the tension between nature and culture. Johnson also adds questions of Black identity to the work via books and recordings of his early performances. The shape of objects made from shea butter also refers to cultural artefacts.
The plants, piles of books and televisions seem to have been taken from everyday life. The approachability suggested in this way facilitates a new outlook on the historical context of colonial ideas and cultural discourses on “civilised” and “primitive” societies.
In its interior, the plant island houses a piano. Through the music, the installation becomes both organ and organism. The result is a living garden that can be read as a poetic image of a world in which historical developments and their artefacts are constantly reappraised.
“It’s a fairly complicated object in the way that it mixes materials — the hardness of the steel, the fragility and variety of the plants, the softness of the shea butter, the generosity of the books. I put all of these things together to consider how they function together materially, how they function together critically and conceptually and what they are capable of forming together.”
— Rashid Johnson
When I See You in Your Mirror
Japanese rock gardens are the starting point for this installation. Literally translated from kare-san-sui as “dry landscapes”, they replicate mountains and watercourses with rocks, gravel and sand. Shinoda, himself a gardener by training, chose individual stones from Japanese gardens for his installation, which he photographed and had reproduced by a stonemason in Kyoto.
The smooth sides of the stones indicate that most of these Japanese gardens can only be seen from one point of view and hence there is always an invisible reverse. Shinoda feels particularly intrigued by the side of the stones obscured from the garden visitors’ gaze.
For his reproductions, Shinoda chose marble, an iconic material in Western culture. In this work Western thinking stands for the separate existence of humans and nature, in which Shinoda sees the origin of destructive behaviour towards the environment. When I see you in your mirror combines the thought structure of the Japanese garden with a traditionally Western artistic material in order to look at our treatment of the environment from a different point of view.
The installation combines nature with artistry. Night-blooming jasmine, a plant called mesk-ellil in Persian, is growing in seven terrariums. Only at night do their blooms exude one of the most intense and sensual smells of the plant kingdom. Through special lighting and darkening, the installation changes the plants’ natural rhythm. During the opening hours of the exhibition it is night time for them and they release their bewitching fragrance.
Like the architects of Persian gardens, Berrada combines technical elements with sensual experience and symbolic content. Gardens were created whose form and function correlated to how things are connected in the world and they also reflected practical considerations. In the Persian garden, for example, the water channels represent the four rivers of paradise described in the Qur’an, and their cruciform arrangement makes them a particularly efficient irrigation system. With considerable technical input, Mesk-ellil therefore involves the creation of an enchanting unit under human control that proposes the fictive possibility of controlling our increasingly chaotic world.
“To me, the garden is a way of reflecting on the state of the human mind. More precisely, it can reflect how humans conceive nature at a given time, and how they would like it to be.”
— Hicham Berrada
This large-scale urban gardening project in San Francisco has shown how spaces within cities can be turned into productive farmland. Victory Gardens is inspired by gardens of the same name that were created during the Second World War and transformed private grounds as well as public parks into kitchen gardens.
The project comprised several stages. The collective helped private individuals to create and maintain gardens at their homes. A network of urban farmers emerged from the participants. Freely accessible workshops and exhibitions along with analog and digital information material made gardening knowhow available to the urban population. Futurefarmers also designed and tended other Victory Gardens as a format they described as “demonstrations”: with gardens in central locations, such as the forecourt of the San Francisco City Hall, they called for a rethinking of the urban environment.
Pteridophilia 1–4; Survival Manual II; Movements; Fern as Method
Starting from the observation that, through climate change, humanity is not only depriving other species but also ultimately itself of the prerequisites for survival on earth, these films show an attempt to establish a new intimate relationship between nature and humans.
Naked men can be seen seeking physical contact with ferns. They encounter the plants not as mere objects, but as responsive beings, sensitising us to a more caring and equal treatment of nature.
The Survival Manuals also enable us to see plants anew by classifying so-called “weeds” as edible plants and thus shifting their significance. In this way, they become food and offer a way to prepare us for a future in the changing circumstances of a world in ecological imbalance.
Fern as Method is an open invitation to all visitors to take the time to acquaint themselves with a fern and draw it. The drawings will be collected at the exit to the exhibition space, composted and in a further step, feed the plants.
With All My Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever
In this installation, the exhibition space dissolves into dots. It no longer consists of a floor, ceiling and walls, but becomes a large spotted expanse. Kusama feels attracted to this infinite universe of dots because it opens up a space of possibility in which one can lose oneself and one’s sense of person. A feeling that Kusama calls self-obliteration. In this abandonment of self she sees an opportunity to turn the earth into the Garden of Eden — a peaceful paradise.
In With All my Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever, this idea and the dissolution of space and self can also be seen as psychedelic, the larger-than-life tulips look formidable and the dots also seem to capture us up in a garden that feels threatening. The installation teeters between utopia and dystopia, and between liberation and limitation.
“Our earth is like one little polka dot, among millions of other celestial bodies, one orb full of hatred and strife amid the peaceful, silent spheres. Let’s you and I change all of that and make this world a new Garden of Eden.”
— Yayoi Kusama
In the entrance area of the Gropius Bau, bird sounds can be heard. If you listen carefully, you will recognise a female voice — that of the artist — translating 28 names of male colleagues into chirping, twittering and chattering. Birds make these noises to warn each other, to engage in courtship or to mark territories, among other things. For our human ears, too, this cawing and whistling can sound inviting or repellent.
The recording was made as a reaction to gender dynamics in the art world. By playfully distorting the names as bird calls, the work criticises the importance of big names for the recognition and visibility of artists and humorously highlights the predominance of male artists.
For the exhibition Garden of Earthly Delights, these bird calls import a feeling of the outdoors into the Gropius Bau and, in this context, recall the classical motif of the garden in art: the hortus conclusus as an enclosed space separated from its surroundings by a wall. And yet birds and their calls go in and out of spaces as a matter of course, disregarding the garden’s human-made boundaries.
2012–2555, Paintings Untitled
Fascinated by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, Arunanondchai painted a version of this work in 2010, which is also the inspiration for 2012–2555. In the background of the installation is the adapted theme from Raphael’s School of Athens (1509–1511), in front of which a structure decorated with plastic flowers and surrounded by flames is set up. This structure seems to be taken from a ritual context.
There are two screens in front of this stage-like configuration. An important setting in the videos is the garden of Arunanondchai’s grandparents. For a whole year he filmed how he showed films to his grandparents in a previously unused part of the garden. He showed the resulting film recordings in the USA, where he lives and works. He also filmed these various screenings and took them to Thailand to show his grandparents how the pictures of their garden had travelled the world. A catastrophic flood in 2011 motivated Arunanondchai to address the subjects of destruction, memory and new beginnings. The garden particularly attracted him as a theme, because of the constant cycle of renewal and decay naturally occurring in it. Moreover, a garden itself needs care and thus offered Arunanondchai a particularly intimate setting for his affectionate relationship with his grandparents.
“2012–2555 originally started as a response to the really bad flood that happened in 2011 in Bangkok in combination with the fear of the end of the world and the year 2012.”
— Korakrit Arunanondchai
Maria Thereza Alves
Wake: Reintroducing the Obliterated Flora of the Spree Riverbank
For the current exhibition Garden of Earthly Delights Alves examines seeds as historical witnesses. Whether as ballast from ships, stolen colonial goods, travellers’ souvenirs or crop seeds that failed to grow in fields — the ways in which seeds came to be in the soil at certain locations says a lot about the histories of cities and how they grew.
As a result of various excavations in Berlin, Alves discovered that there were differences between the flora of East and West Berlin. Here these archaeological finds are coming to life and the installation links the past with the present.
The seeds for Wake were originally found on construction sites by the banks of the river Spree. With its broken surface of rubble and concrete, the installation takes up both Berlin’s current cityscape and its history. In the destroyed post-war city, for example, plants were able to grow in cracked road surfaces, restoring a biodiversity that had previously vanished.
“My project is an outcome of research done in 2000. At this time the city was undergoing intensive urban renewal. I investigated the botanical history of 17 sites by studying potential ways seeds arrived via people, animals, wind, and any other accidents of history.”
— Maria Thereza Alves
Wake: Reintroducing the Obliterated Flora of the Spree Riverbank
Concrete, plants, soil
Courtesy the artist
Quotation from the exhibition catalogue, 2019