Gardening Practices in Contemporary Art: New Episode of “Funny Pictures” Podcast

Gardening Practices in Contemporary Art: New Episode of “Funny Pictures” Podcast

“Funny Pictures” – critical podcast show about conventional and contemporary art hosted by an alumnus of the Sociology Program at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg. Nastya and Sasha discuss art production and distribution through the lenses of sociological theories and chat with the artist and other cultural agents. Previously authors have already discussed NFT art and shared their visual impressions after trips to Georgia and Armenia. 

Gardening is not such obvious artistic practice as performance. Thus, there is a question, of why it is sometimes intuitively easier to prescribe the status “form of art” to some practices, whereas others evoke contradictions and difficulties. In a new episode of “Funny Pictures” podcast, Nastya and Sasha had a fruitful conversation with “Budet Sad” curators — Julia Evstratova and Lisa Movchan, during which together we tried to make a hypothesis on why gardening is underrated, how all that plant stuff related to the post-humanism ideas, matriarchy and anti-violence symbolism.

“Budet Sad” – art initiative created by students of the Design Program of the Higher School of Economics Julia Evstratova and Lisa Movchan. The initiative represents a site-specific project. The garden unites the allies among which one can find artists, friends, visitors, and nature enthusiasts. Lisa and Julia started the project based on Anna Golubkina’s garden. One of the first famous women sculptors in the Russian Empire – Anna Golubkina was really into plants and even created a garden. Throughout Golubkina’s lifetime, the sculptor made more than 350 botanical drawings. Nowadays the garden is located near the museum devoted to her.

The project and topic itself gave the inspiration to deep dive into the woods of plants’ art history. The first link that we got after googling “gardens in art history” is devoted to Monet’s Gardens — a series of impressionistic paintings of public parks and private gardens he did at the end of the 19th century. Not only Monet was fond of depicting gardens, but other impressionists such as Pissarro, Renoir, and Caillebotte also shifted their view from the city to the green oasis, which was probably the result of the great influence of Japanese art in the Western visual culture.

However, impressionists were not pioneers who love to admire gardens. Talking within the Western art history paradigm, the most famous visual garden was created by Hieronymus Bosch. Back in medieval times, the contextual content of gardens was different from a simple representation of a place for recreation: The Garden of Edem by Hieronymus Bosch represents the garden as a Paradise symbol — the place one should try hard to get in. Strictly planned, closed, harmonic gardens often accompanied monasteries and castles. The creation of an ordered, organized garden in medieval times was closely connected with social structure: just like the medieval person, the garden was separated from the outer world, ascetic, and protected by the walls from threats and temptations.

In contrast with the Medieval Garden, the Japanese one, which was the inspiration for impressionists, does not characterize by strict geometrical order; at the first sight, haphazard elements obey the Zen philosophy. Thus, again, the social system determines the surroundings.

Gardening is not such obvious artistic practice, for example performance. Thus, there is a question, of why it is sometimes intuitively easier to prescribe the status “form of art” to some practices, whereas others evoke contradictions and difficulties. Here we have some hypotheses.

Let us look back at visual art, according to the hierarchy of genres created in 1669 by Andre Felibien — a French art historian. During the 17th – 19th centuries, this hierarchy was a basis for Art Academia in Europe. There was a division into the Grande genre (high genre) and Petite Genre (low genre).

According to this system, landscape paintings, including gardens and plants depiction, were ascribed to the low genre. Speaking about art hierarchies in general, painting is still being on the top of this system: graphics, photography, performance, and design are at a much lower stage.

The first reason is that people know how to turn paintings into economic commodities, whereas it is rather difficult to estimate the market value of performative art or street art, for example. Despite Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer and Martin Heidegger, and contemporary philosophers, who defined gardening as an “aesthetic experience”, gardening is still not at the same level, let us say, performance. Stereotypically, gardening is associated with leisure, housekeeping activities, or design (which is a form of art).

The second reason is that low-genre paintings, decorative art, gardening, or any artistic form, which somehow interconnected with everyday life and housekeeping, historically considered female art, thus a priori worse because it is less valuable. Worth to notice this situation happened not because women’s skills are being worse than men’, that is because initially women were not allowed to study art at all, then to study anatomy to have the ability to make paintings in the Grande genre, while practices, which were available for them had not been institutionalized.

A more detailed discussion of mentioned above so-called paradox of gardening as a (non)-art practice would be available on the 4th of the episode of the “Funny Pictures” podcast made in collaboration with the “Budet Sad” project. Speakers talked not only about the historical examples of pure artistic gardens, but also touched on the topic of the important political, social and aesthetic role of plants in human life.
The episode “All into the garden: art-initiative «‎Budet sad» is going to be published on the 2nd of February. The show is available on every platform one could imagine. Follow the link and choose the most convenient option:

Stay tuned! Flower Power!

Text by

Aleksandra Shanina