TALLINN AS A BIRD
TWO LETTERS FROM VINCENT VAN GOGH TO HIS BROTHER
TO SING TILL DIE
PERFORMATIVITY OF GARDENING
CROSS-OVER ARCHITECTURE AND THE THIRD GENERATION CITY
HARRY PYE'S POSTCARD FROM SAO PAULO
Performativity of Gardening
My interest lies in the everyday, ordinariness, daily life, time spent, human connections and living. Actions like walking, cooking, gardening and travelling are all enmeshed into my art practice. My relationship with nature remains a continual question. I constantly reaffirm this relationship through walking, through breathing, through filming, through gardening, through drawing, through thinking, through hanging out. My love for nature co-exists with my love for urban pleasures; dancing, parties, music, libraries, buildings etc. I try to explore this relationship between nature and contemporary life, through what is wild and unplanned with what is structured, coded and ordered. In this in-between world is a myriad of tensions and possibilities. The text that follows is from four years ago and traces a beginning of the work that I am currently making.
Ordinariness, daily life, time spent, human connections and living.
In 2004 I started to do chalk drawings onto derelict sites of the weeds growing there in Dublin for a piece called “Memory Garden”. I combined two methods of drawing; observational and studies from botanical diagrams. The process of drawing onto the sites initiated interest from passers-by. The interest was either about the building in question, the drawing, the weed or the strangeness of my activity. Whether negative or positive the reactions and interactions were directly stemming from the work as it was being made and they thus became a part of the work. The drawings remained as a result of this action. I screenprinted a map with a list of all the weeds and all the sites. This I presented simply folded on a table in June 2004 in Studio 6, Temple Bar Galleries and Studios. This map enabled people to walk the city and find the drawings. Being done in chalk, the drawings were temporary and some disappeared entirely, some were deliberately wiped away and some I redrew as new plants appeared or I found out more information about the plant correctly identifying it. I worked on this project for a period of three months from May till July 2004. This time spent drawing, walking and documenting the weeds let me observe the changes in the plants as the season progressed. Both the weeds and the buildings changed. Weeds often disappeared or dried up stubs remained, evidence of chemical spraying, buildings also disappeared or became building sites.
Diary Excerpt from Memory Garden; Walking Routes.
‘’ 2nd site, Buckingham Street.
Dandelion in doorway. Was going to draw at the grecian facade on Sean Mac Dermott St but it was too dirty, surrounded by human excrement. Used botanical diagrams, sparser this time found 1st drawing too busy. Shy of passersby, used chalk only and chalk pencil to write text then it started to rain, so I stopped. One comment from a passer-by “that’s not very nice” I understand him to mean the activity of drawing on a door rather than the drawing itself. Was disappointed a week or so later when the drawing was washed away by the rain. Used botanical drawing of dandelion head gone to seed “ginny jo” as Jesse told me it was named, later Fergus said the same. I used to call it a “clock” I think.
7th site, next to Harolds Cross Park.
Ivy leaved toadflax and chickweed right across from the bus stop constantly observed, bricked up windows. Used chalk first wasn’t happy with the result so I used a fine brush and painted with dilute waterbased white paint. Old man and lady parked their car nearby and were walking probably up to Mount Jerome graveyard or church. Old man quipped that I’d be an old woman by the time I’d finished. I laughed in agreement. Very slow painstaking work. When I was working in brush on the second drawing a young lad (early twenties) stopped asking what I was doing, very friendly, was I an art teacher, did I do portraits, how much would I charge etc. Did I spend all day drawing, smoke a joint and draw all the time for hours? He wished me luck and went on his way. Old couple returned, nearly finished at this point. They congratulated me. I finished drawing and documented it from across the street beside the bus stop. Walked down to Fumbally Lane to the 8th site. Had identified the plant at No.5 as chickweed again. Because I had used the representational diagram at previous site I used more obscure seed part diagrams and flower head from John Hutchinson’s Pelican Book; Wild Flowers Vol 1 & 2 Britain. Few passers-by. Two young Spanish guys curious seemed to be intrigued. Working on drawing very absorbed, happy with progress. Next thing luminous yellow in my right eyes peripheral vision. Garda Siochana, Day after May Day, huge police presence. Ban Garda convinced she’d found a terrorist or an anarchist. “Is this your property? What are you doing? I was accused of harming and defacing private property. I was so taken back by her agressiveness that I said I wasn’t harming or defacing property, I was enhancing it and the drawing was in chalk so it wasn’t harmful. She said ‘there is no room for artistic interpretation of the law. Had I ever heard of a pencil and paper? Had I?” I said that wasn’t the purpose of the art project. Male guard polite and interested asked me about the project and why I was doing the drawings.
Aoife Desmond’s artist-in-residence studio, Temple Bar, Dublin
Female guard took my name, address, name of college and asked why if I lived in Rathmines I was coming down to Dublin 8 to do drawings. I said there were no derelict buildings in Rathmines. She quoted some act that gave her the right to look in my bag on suspicion I was carrying firearms or explosives. Nothing of course. I was ordered to leave the area. I took the rest of the day off from outside drawings.
9th site, back to Fumbally lane to finish drawing interrupted by the police.
13th site, Fumbally Lane again all sites weeded, previous drawings gone.
No 5 had wall lettuce and an unidentified plant same as Mill Street plant growing at its corner. I draw with chalk directly onto the corner wall, observational of both plants.
15th Pimm Street.
It’s Bank Holiday Monday, beautiful sunny day. Outside The Brewery Bar is full with locals drinking and enjoying the free day and sunshine. Kids play on the street. The local shop has caged birds (budgies) hanging by its doorway singing. Frank Sinatra is blaring down the street. I find the site on the corner. It’s perfect, I do a small drawing on the Pimm Street side of a wall lettuce on the step over which it leans. I walk around shocked to see that the other site that I remember is almost torn down. It’s facade is kept and is being built around, behind and above. I return to Pimm Street corner, I’m shy to draw with the pub so busy but I decide to go for it. the plant turns out to be a Wall Mustard rather than Wall Lettuce. it has slightly different leaves and flowers. The book says it grows in wasteland areas, piers and harbours. When I’m nearly finished the drawing I meet a drunk man holding a pint of stout and his son. “That’s a very historical site.” I smile. I’m glad someone recognizes that I’m interested in the history of the area and derelict sites. The man turns out to have been born in the house. He and his son now live in Fatima Mansions on the point of being moved and waiting for the new apartments to be built. He says the whole area was a harbour and pier before, a port. I’m slightly confused about what he means. He implies he remembers it personally. He only seems to be in his 40’s. Where did all the water go? He’s very negative about the city council and the new developments, says they don’t care, they’re useless. His son is eight, he looks older. The boy points to the basement of the house and says his dad used to keep his machines there, the man agrees. What machines? I never do find out. They seem to like what I’m doing.
17th No 83 James Street.
Drawing of branch of Buddlia, only so-so, getting tired, have been walking all day.
20th No 43 Dawson Street.
Homeless guy begging in doorway. I hesitate and decide to do drawing anyway. I do a very detailed observational drawing of a clump of grass growing in front of the doorway. Drawing is going well, homeless guy comes over and asks what I’m doing. I say I’m drawing the grass that’s growing in front of the doorway. He says it’s called “Fools Rye” and that you can pick the seed heads and put them in your bath, that they’re more relaxing than lavender. I finish the drawing and add a botanical diagram of a part of rye grass. I photograph the drawing and talk to the homeless man about the beauty of the building. He says most people don’t look beyond the first floor. The next day the drawing has been removed and I discover the building is occupied.”
Walking the city looking for a garden.
The act of walking the city, locating sites and drawing has become a performative artwork. It becomes an enactment of connection with the city. This live moment and a kind of necessity to the work is also part of the second Memory Garden at Kells, Co. Kilkenny. So a garden consisting of drawing evolves into an actual garden. I had been wanting to evolve the drawings on derelict sites to planting at derelict sites but had been having difficulty finding an appropriate way as there was usually no soil available, just concrete. Kells gave the opportunity to garden at an overgrown priory site in a rural location. This excerpt from my diary of the planting shows the physicality of the thought processes behind the planting.
“...walking the site, we cross the bridge onto the priory site and the overgrown graveyard is to our right, Val says that a botanist visited the site and got excited about the weeds there that there were rare herbs gone wild and that he reckoned that the monks must have planted a herb garden there at some stage. After some negotiations I choose my location, a little away from the marked graves, visible from the pathway but set back. the first day I mark out a square in the tall grass, slightly larger than my outstretched arms, by parting the grass folding it away from itself to reveal a line of earth all the way round. The second day I cut the grass and weeds with a Japanese saw and leave them in a large mound beside the site. I start to remove the root matter, it’s about two inches thick a dense carpet of moss and nettle and grass roots. The third day I continue to remove the root mass. It’s hard work and consists of digging and pulling in turns. I’m sweating, dirty and my hands are sore. Eventually all the root mass is removed. I add some peat moss to the revealed soil and dig a few inches deep continuing to remove weeds and to remove stones. When I’m happy that the ground is ready, I water it, carrying buckets from the stream perhaps 20 loads and then I plant.”
I planted the garden using a mixture of surrounding wild plants, seeds collected from my own garden and plants that were seeding themselves from my aunts’ and grandmothers’ garden who live in Co. Carlow.
Diary excerpt: “... footsteps going by on the street, doors banging, traffic distant and near, rumbling of beer barrels perhaps? In the studio, “winter garden” is calm, quiet, stillness. Plants growing, fire burning, I’m sitting, looking, reflecting, looking at the drawings.”
I had intended to create a garden at a derelict site in the city. But I wasn’t comfortable trespassing in such a public way for such a prolonged period of time. So after a period spent solely drawing in my studio I came back to the “Winter Garden” idea and decided to combine drawing and gardening in the same space.
In my work the performative function is reliant on my consistent attentiveness. From this attentiveness the relationship between gardening and drawing led to a kind of third space within the room. For “Winter Garden” I have used my current studio, a former Georgian drawing room now an artists studio on Eustace Street, Temple Bar. This third space has emerged from spending time there. The work includes the time spent looking, as well as the drawing, gardening, cleaning and lighting the fire. If performativity is demanding an implied physical involvement from the viewer, then this piece has created a new space between the gardening/everyday activity and drawing which is the viewers. Performativity allows room for the viewer to change the work through the looking and participation. This change is subtle and implied, it is not that the viewer/visitor will necessarily draw, move objects or garden but the possibility for that is there.
The “Winter Garden” is a lived in space. I tend to the space, to the plants, to the drawings, to the fire. From the time spent there, my presence is visible even in my absence. The stillness of the space is a living stillness, with the plantings forever growing. In the absence of a performer, traces of presence remain and evidence of ongoing action. It is an unfixed space continuously redrawn with each day spent there. The space is at once imagined and real, the drawings relate to a fictional garden, impossible and imagined. The planted garden combines bulbs, seeds and plants taken from the city and from family as well as my home garden. This overlapping of place and site points to how we locate ourselves in space in a continuously nomadic fashion. The installation uses objects in transition, the plants are in peat pots and newspaper pots ready to be distributed or planted out in new locations. The furniture is retrieved from the city from skips. etc. The drawings are painted with fine brush and diluted pigment directly onto the wall and will be painted over. The “dailiness” in the work is something achieved only by continuous care and is temporary and frail.
The placement of the furniture in the room has been governed by the plants need for light. As the tables and filing cabinets are topped with rows of plants they are placed in the natural pools of light. The light loving plants are in the window and window area and the shade suited ones further back, it is less an aesthetic decision than a practical concern. Nonetheless it has an aesthetic outcome arising from the plants being in their rightful place. I check regularly the health of the plants and treat them accordingly. The use of living plants as part of my art practice means I am responsible for their happiness. In a different way I am also responsible for the happiness of the drawings, the space and the objects within it also.
The space has been “claimed” and demarcated by my actions. My spatial relationship to the room has given rise to the particular locatedness of the drawings. This third space I have mentioned is linked to an idea from Edward Soja, he described this third space as produced space that potentially we have the power to produce and in doing so claim.
Opening the Garden.
When August and Aive visited me in my studio (the site of the former “Winter Garden”) this April it was to meet me in a state of flux between projects, between places, methods of working. Though much has changed since “Winter Garden” it is reassuring to feel it’s presence still as I write these words. I have three months left in this studio in this beautiful room. After who knows?
is a Dublin-based artist and film director