Thursday, July 30, 2009

As a subject, site or spectacle, the garden has provided a timeless reference throughout the ages of art history. Whilst the Impressionists certainly had a fascination with the garden, churning out plein airs in the 19th century, their interest perhaps did not compare to the obsession held by the German professor of philosophy and aesthetics, C. C. L. Hirschfield. During the late 18th century, Hirschfield wrote extensively on gardens before publishing his five-volume Theory of Garden Art. For Hirschfield, the garden represented ‘that place where nature itself might be fashioned into a fully dimensional and all-encompassing work of art, one capable of touching the mind, the soul, the heart, and all the senses to accomplish a true synesthesia.’1 While Hirschfield’s hopes for framing the beauty of nature within the borders of a measured space seem reductive, it is undeniable that gardens ground their inhabitants by pummelling the five senses. As a haven from the quotidian, the garden refreshes the context against which we normally use those senses – instead of the pungency of urban decay, we get a taste of organic growth. The symbolism of the garden has perhaps changed most rapidly in the last decade due to an increased awareness and interest in local and sustainable food production.
Whereas once the garden was duly noted as a site for the display of privilege and power – inferring the ownership of land, labour and leisure time to properly experience it – the garden is now making resurgence as a space that is one of utility and community. Martorell’s garden in Splintered Guilders has literally outgrown the traditions of art history: it is too excited to be confined to the silence of a still life, or the static stagnancy of a sculpture.
Even as an installation it refuses to settle: constantly introducing new elements throughout the duration of the show – some rescued succulents here, some zebra fish there, as needed – Martorell doesn’t give any suggestions as to an idea for an end point.
The value of continuity is perfectly illustrated, for instance, in the fact that the potatoes used in Splintered Guilders are the offspring of those that provided the structures for Martorell’s 2008 show, Umbil Ballits. Interestingly, the potato has lingual origins pertaining to its fruitfulness as a plant: the literal translation of the French ‘potato’, pomme de terre – ‘earth apple’ – compares with the Finnish ‘potato’, peruna, derived from the old Swedish, jordparon – ‘earth pear’. In Martorell’s work, the humble S. tuberosum proves a useful medium, a sturdy yet dynamic material; resistant to rapid decay and consistent with overall themes of growth and continuity. It serves as one of the primary construction materials for the scaffolding that will suggest the basic forms from which Martorell’s installations can grow from. Out of the scaffolding, the plants take on their own form, relieving Martorell from his task as an artist of arrangement and composition. Martorell’s various uses of organic living matter offer comments not only about versatility, resilience and aversion to waste, but also a reflection on the capacity of natural elements to restore themselves and maintain equilibrium. Splintered Guilders hosts a garden povera that offers ‘reject’ plants a second chance, and that plays with pond-life in kick drums. It experiments with the residuals of the growth and decay of living objects, and, in the nature of the garden, provides a space for experiencing a happy overload of quiet cacophony and kaleidoscopic colour.
2009/7/17 Chad Chan