NOTES ON 'G L A S S L A N D S'
Fiona Ackerman - 2016
Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
– Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620
Glasslands looks at the garden on canvas as both a site and symbol of imagination, a wholly artificial construct where we harness the wild and reinvent our world. Defined by boundaries and dependent on enclosure, a garden occupies an in-between space reflecting seemingly opposing forces. A proposed utopia, it is a re-writing of the wild through exclusion and curation.
These new paintings emerged from a process of exploration beginning with pieces of painted paper cut in shapes of foliage, placed inside a mirror box (hence, glass-land). The resulting three-dimensional mirrored images shatter, amplify and disrupt conventional views of nature rendered on a flat surface, giving rise to lush compositions with depth and unexpected juxtapositions. In this restrained inventory of sources, the artificiality of the parts contrasted with recognizable flashes of leaves, branches, blades of grass, offering a breeding ground for invention.
According to Foucault's concept of Heterotopia, a garden is an other place where the true wild is reflected but subversively controlled. It both imitates and contests reality by simultaneously presenting a wild environment and its opposite, an orchestrated performance of nature, a choreography of growth. Like the garden, a painting also acts as a heterotopia, both reflecting and re-envisioning elements of human experience. On canvas, the limitless potential of colour and form are steered and directed. As with a garden, a painting emerges by defining limits, following a system of radical subtraction. The decisions of colour, composition and style a painter makes must necessarily fit within parameters defined by each new painting. A successful painting acts as a functioning organism. When all aesthetic elements align, a healthy eco-system prospers.
While exploring the many incarnations of artificial gardens on canvas, I also considered ways in which the garden as a concept organizes our experience of the natural and social worlds alike: the garden as structural blueprint, an organizational system of exclusion whereby dominance is secured and naturalized.
Civilization invents gardens by engineering race, culture, gender and economics, to name a few. In these systems, any idea, belief or person who challenges the defined perspective is excluded – or weeded out. The result is a dominant system, presented as a natural order. Our metaphorical gardens are numerous and overlapping. They are artificial, heterotopic organisms which reflect a natural structure, and in doing so, pervert it.
As individuals we are not able to see ourselves except in mirrors, through these series of reflections, called society, civilization, polity, nationality, gender, race. Perhaps it is through building and then experiencing metaphorical gardens that we can come to know and define who we really are as a society, a culture, a species.
Historically, the garden has also been a site of refuge. One escapes to the garden for reflection, to go into the self. One is not challenged by the garden, but freed to explore in its protective utopian safety, artificial though it may be.
As creative creatures, we come to know ourselves through what we imagine. The painter becomes a painter through painting. Our society continually reshapes itself by reinventing, then experiencing different systems of order. By creating and then experiencing one structure, we initiate an opportunity for reinvention. By recreating the wild through our own hand, we come to know it, and ourselves.