When thinking about gardens or parks, references ‘spring’ to mind such as the infamous Garden of Eden, the ornate and geometric Versailles gardens, and the massive Central Park in New York City. Literary incarnations of gardens feature mysterious, symbolic, forbidding, or magical qualities, and they are often portrayed as sites for healing and retreat. In The Garden of Speculations, the diverse practices of Kelly Jaclynn Andres, Maude Bernier Chabot, Véronique Chagnon-Côté and Maude Deslauriers draw us into an imagined garden to contemplate the many facets of how we understand, manipulate and react to the natural world. Featuring drawings, sculptures, installations, sound, video, and organic matter, each artist explores and evokes something different about our physical and socio-cultural relationships to nature. How we appropriate, reclaim, mark or represent the organic world discloses many things about who we are.
Gardening, horticulture, botany, agriculture, and landscaping are all practices that involve a controlled manipulation of land, plants and waterways to produce a desired aesthetic or product. We see an impulse to capture the extreme tendencies of how humans manipulate nature in Maude Bernier Chabot’s sculpture, molded from a giant prize-winning pumpkin that was exhibited at the Botanical Garden of Montréal. When we begin to contemplate the existential weirdness of such engineered organisms, we can easily be overwhelmed by their ubiquitous presence: designer vegetables and plants are everywhere we look. Our unnatural manipulations have led us to a normalization of de-naturalized forms of nature produced for our consumption and pleasure. During the long process of re-sculpting and casting the original pumpkin along its interior and exterior surfaces, Bernier Chabot had to adapt and respond to its gradual process of decomposition. The fine details and realistic textures of the pumpkin’s surface, with its soft, deflated, organically decaying form, provides a stark contrast to the flat, unnatural tones painted across its surface. Stuck between the realms of nature and artifice, it exists in a state of ambiguity.
Employing cyclical systems, repetition, transition, and growth, Kelly Jaclynn Andres’ work fosters dynamic interactions between multiple living and non-living entities, and highlights the ephemeral nature of being. Andres’ installation provides a structure for vegetal life to act as agents and “co-perform” with visitors in the gallery space by producing and exchanging sensorial phenomena within a system. Using mesh panels to create moiré visual patterns within the structure, and utilizing video and vibrational sound elements, her work reconsiders the agency of plant life and the potentiality for human connectivity with the plant world. This research-driven interactive work speculates upon our own perceptions and connections with living systems. Andres’ installation harnesses various technologies to reveal ecologies and material transitions of states and energies. Andres leads us to speculate on nature as an energetic and dynamic force.
Maude Deslauriers’ colourful and sensual paintings of vegetation intermingle with images often appropriated by feminist artists of vegetation, the human body and other natural forms to create a space for meditation on our perception and interconnection with our earthly counterparts. How do our bodies echo the organic matter all around us? Deslauriers’ paintings depict soft organic forms recalling orchids, papayas, cellular organisms and vulvas – suggesting that the boundaries are blurred between our understanding of our environs as being distinct and separate from our own organic bodies and complex sensoria. Michel Foucault recalls the idea of being aware of one’s own body as distinct or part of a whole, and discusses the perceptual and interconnected nature of dancing and sensing, “...the body...in its materiality, in its flesh, would be like the product of its own phantasms. After all, isn’t the body of the dancer precisely a body dilated along an entire space that is both exterior and interior to it?” Having studied dance, Deslauriers continues to integrate corporeality and dance practices into her visual works in a highly symbolic manner, imagining a fluid communion between the body and nature.
Veronique Chagnon-Côté explores similar concepts revolving around how we literally frame and order nature. Her sculptures and paintings examine the architectonics of gardens – how we construct and understand them as a system based on relating to them as a larger whole, that of architecture. Looking at gardens as geometric, gridded forms, we see the pervasive system of ordering that humans impose onto their surroundings. Chagnon-Côté’s representations of botanical gardens and other flora in Québec pushes the viewer to acknowledge humanity’s impulse to order and (re)construct our green spaces. The works in The Garden of Speculations, acting as mediums of exchange between the viewer and the natural world, indicate the desire to redefine and reconfigure our understanding of gardens, plants and green spaces, and the potential to cultivate a sense of ourselves in connection with non-human entities.
Megan Mericle is an artist, writer and activist who lives in Montréal. Currently working under the artist Nadia Myre, she earned her Master’s degree in Art History from McGill University, and a BFA degree in Art from the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, where she grew up in Treaty 7 territory.