Gardens of Maturity – on Maciej Aleksandrowicz’s installation in the nave and presbytery of Galeria EL Art Centre
In his witty article about the struggle with the philosophical description of gardening, Leszek Kołakowski once demonstrated the superiority of actual work in the garden over attempts to theorise it. It turned out that the most influential schools of Western philosophy were helpless when faced with a phenomenon full of such diverse meanings, and the ironic columnist had to admit conceptual impotence vis-à-vis the garden phenomenon. Contemptuously reduced to the notion of a backyard area, in many concepts the garden has become a symbol of a conservative lifestyle – an existence focused on privacy, turning away from an uncertain history. The Voltairean cultivation of one’s own garden (interpreted, not quite correctly, as praise of escapism) has developed into a figuration of a bourgeois ethos – the ideal of a safe life, in the enclosed space of a domestic microcosm. In effect, gardening has been permanently associated with an individual’s escape to artificial enclaves of familiarity, erected in the midst of hostile wilderness. However, the topos of the garden as a good place, eutopia, evoked both affirmatively and critically, has not solved the definition-related problems but has permanently separated, as Kołakowski noted, garden theories from practices.
This does not mean, however, that we can invariably either speculate about the garden or (suspending the concepts) practise plant cultivation. The potential of blending theory and practice is presented in the exhibition entitled Gardens of Maturity, which is part of a transdisciplinary research and artistic project initiated by Maciej Aleksandrowicz.
The title itself introduces a shift in the field of established associations – it brings out the phase of life that tends to escape representation within the framework of the Arcadian mythology of the garden, as mortality does not penetrate the eternity of Eden. Shifts in meanings of the garden motif are also visible in the exhibited objects. The installation occupying the main part of the art gallery reminds of the hybrid status of the garden: the space of nature and artificiality. This co-existence is primarily expressed in the combination of materials: whitewashed skeletons of apple trees – dead and dry orchard waste – rise from metal frames. The white boughs placed in the gallery, reinforced with metal prostheses, become techno-organisms: dry tree fragments are covered with a coating that makes the fragile matter sculptural. The arbitrariness of divisions into nature and technology, functional objects and aesthetic contemplation, additionally emphasizes the origin of the trees used by the artist – the orchard in which they used to bear fruit is a form of nature created by and for the needs of man, understood as a user of the world. Notably, the death of apple trees – thanks to which they could be exhibited – is a genuine loss of expected crop and hence a failure of the human undertaking whose effects depend on the work of fruit growers as much as on phenomena beyond their control.
With his Gardens of Maturity, Maciej Aleksandrowicz activates the Arcadian myth; through the notions of maturity and mortality, he revives the relationship between the garden and work or between care and responsibility. Redundant matter, consumed resources and materials are combined to create an image of maturity as a progressing cyborgization – engineering and technology help fill the gaps in mortal nature and prolong its existence. At the same time, however, they gradually absorb biological energy, filling the organism with substitutes and prostheses. The individuality and uniqueness of life turn out to be fiction, because the continuity of existence is controlled by the devices and capabilities of biopolitical institutions. In this regulatory optics, the garden – as a place of immobilised time and the image of Arcadian eternity – is transformed into a prison, i.e. a machine for the objectification and production of disciplined bodies. The hybrid autarchy, present in the repertoire of symbols and figurations of the garden, resists idyllic simplifications thanks to that ambiguity – the idea of self-sufficient space and mechanically improved extended life can materialise in a lonely isolated body.
Therefore the title of the exhibition serves as a formula reviving reflection on maturity; it introduces distortions in the valuation of biological processes; it causes errors in the system of signs with which we describe momentary concentrations of changing matter. The objects forming the exhibition consist not only of heterogeneous materials – what matters are also the stories of obtaining individual materials; their earlier forms of life and ways of use. Old fruit trees, corroded parts of the once ferociously colourful playground (forming part of the installation entitled Giant, located in the presbytery of Galeria EL) bring their past to the garden composition – the condition of the materials indicates their variability and temporalization, accumulated in layers, adhesions and transformations of their original states. This is perhaps the broadest principle of the Gardens of Maturity – the geological temporality shared by organic and inorganic matter, and the build-up that characterises it, so different from the linearly depicted passage and decline. After all, if social history can be read from a single plant, as Lionella Scazzosi argued – together with the method of cultivation, means of nurturing or economics of the species – then the Gardens of Maturity can become multi-dimensional archives of our own history, both natural and artificial.