13 July 2012
I have been asked why I have chosen gardens as a particular focus for studying heterotopia. Gardens may seem a rather ‘tame’ example. On the contrary, some gardens are associated with wealth, power and authority. Rotenberg (1995 ) has explored this aspect in relation to heterotopia. But what interests me more is the garden’s link to utopia. Foucault suggests that heterotopias are ‘real’ forms of utopia.
The garden provides an image of the world, a space of simulation for paradise-like conditions, a place of otherness where dreams are realised in an expression of a better world. (Meyer, 2003: 131)
The botanical garden is interesting in this respect and also highlights a spatial complexity. Simon Schama (2004: 562), echoing somewhat Foucault’s point about Persian gardens, claims that Renaissance botanical gardens were ‘driven by the desire to reconstitute the whole world in a walled enclosure’. He also refers to Bernard Palissy, a protestant Platonist who produced a secret garden that was both scientific and mystical:
a garden where the totality of creation could be represented in its essentials, rather like the reduction of liquids to perfect crystals’.. (cited in Schama, 2004: 537)
Such comments prompted me to look at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England – the largest green houses in the world.
The Eden Project has an educative focus and aims to promote a better world through our connection with nature. It tells a set of coherent stories. I try to see it from a heterotopian perspective: a thoroughly ambiguous and contradictory space. This aspect of gardens is captured succinctly by Louis Marin in describing the ‘antique paradox’ of a garden:
the unsurpassable contradiction, where art and nature, artifice and truth, imagination and the real, representation and being, mimesis and the origin, play hide-and seek. (Marin, 1992: 70 cited in Bann, 2003)
Stephen Bann highlights Marin’s (1992: 87) plea to garden designers:
You who build gardens, don’t make parks or green spaces, make margins. Don’t make leisure and game parks, make places of jouissance, make closures that are openings. Don’t make imaginary objects, make fictions. Don’t make representations, make empty spaces, gaps, make neutrality. (Marin, 1992: 87)
This could be a cry for playful, imaginative heterotopian garden architecture that cracks open traditional assumptions about, and uses of, the garden space. In this respect I found the radical film maker Derek Jarman’s garden a fascinating place to visit and explore.
I saw it as a therapy and a pharmacopoeia. I collected more driftwood and stones and put them in. I dug small holes – almost impossible, as the shingle rolled back so that two spadefuls became one – and filled them with manure from the farm up the road. The plants were just plonked in and left to take their chances in the winds of Dungeness. (Jarman and Sooley, 1995:12)
Bann, S. (2003) ‘Arcadia as utopia in contemporary landscape design: the work of Bernard Lassus’, History of the Human Sciences, 16 (1): 109-121.
Jarman, D. and Sooley, H. (1995) Derek Jarman’s Garden, London: Thames and Hudson.
Marin, L. (1992) Lectures traversières, Paris: Albin Michel.
Rotenberg, R. (1995) Landscape and Power in Vienna, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Schama, S. (2004) Landscape and Memory, London: Harper Perennial.