‘The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and the whole world at the same time. Since early antiquity the garden has been a sort of blissful and universalising heterotopia….’
Gardens are marked off enclosures, an emplacement, to use Foucault’s favoured term in his account of heterotopia, which are spatially and functionally ambiguous and possess an intense plurality of changing meanings. They are also persistently related to utopian thought, form and desire. In this essay, I briefly discuss the link between gardens and utopia before analysing the space of a contemporary botanical garden in terms of the principles of heterotopia.
Download: The Eden Project pdf
Related links and resources
1. Article on the Eden Project by John Blewitt from the ejournal Museum and Society 2004 Vol 2 issue 3
‘The Eden Project – making a connection’
In contrast to this article’s study of the multiple threads of the Eden Project’s blend of education and entertainment, a heterotopian perspective disturbs and unravels some of these threads. For example, the link between nature and education relates to the history of asylums and prisons and the birth of horticultural therapy.
In The History of Madness (2007), Foucault refers to the importance of Tuke’s model for treating the mad at the Retreat in York at the end of the eighteenth century. According to Tuke, the Retreat is set ‘in the midst of a fertile and cheerful country’ and ‘presents not the idea of a prison, but rather that of a large rural farm’. The garden ‘affords an agreeable place for recreation and employment, to many of the patients’.
As Foucault summarises, ‘exercise in the open air, regular walks and work in the garden were thought to be of great benefit’ (472). He argues that Tuke’s regime of fresh air and his belief in the ‘wisdom of gardens’, illustrate the beginning of one of the major organising forms of nineteenth century psychiatry: ‘Nature as Health’ (473). Peter
2. If you can get hold of it, a wonderful essay by the contemporary artist Dan Graham:
Graham, D. (2009) ‘Garden as Theater as Museum (1989)’ in Beyond Eds. B. Simpson and C. Iles, Cambridge, MA : The MIT Press ; Los Angeles : Museum of Contemporary Art.238-253
3. The Eden project is a ‘living museum’. Here are two articles that address the space of the museum through links with heterotopia:
The above article by Beth Lord is very stimulating and, unlike many articles that use Foucault’s concept of heterotopia loosely, here there is close discussion of both the space of the museum and Foucault’s notion of ‘different spaces’. I particularly like the way the article convincingly connects Foucault’s talk/essay on social spaces with his brief account of heterotopia in The Order of Things. I have tended to neglect the latter.
I differ from the analysis in that I think spaces cannot be ‘essentially’ heterotopian. For Foucault, nothing is essential. I see heterotopia more as a disturbing way of looking at and connecting certain spaces – a method. But this is perhaps not a major difference. Peter
5. Foucault specifically mentions the Persian gardens of antiquity. Solmaz Mohammadzadeh Kive has written an article responding to Foucault’s brief comments:
The Persian garden is claimed to be an “other space,” a place utterly different from yet fundamentally connected to the rest of places. In the light of Foucault’s discussion of “other spaces on one hand, and the representation of garden in the twelfth-century Persian poem Haft Paykar on the other, this paper is concerned with the way the places of everyday life are conditioned by the Persian garden. As a microcosm, the Persian garden bears the image of Paradise, of the perfect place. As an actual place, it is elevated to an earthly paradise, a perfected place. Considering it as a perfect, unqualified ideal place which remains unattainable and, at the same time, an entirely ordered place, which is perfected into an ideal place, the paper considers the interplay of the two forms of the ideal place (the perfect and the perfected) to discuss the way the Persian garden simultaneously contrasts, typifies and nullifies the other places.