Gardens are as intertwined with civilization as the wheel. From the horticulture depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings to the Gardens of Versailles, gardens have represented the union between mankind and nature throughout history. Classic texts recount wonders like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon which celebrated opulence, while the emergence of parks in medieval times were a means of trapping game for the aristocracy. The garden is one of the earliest manipulated landscapes of civilization, one of the earliest indicators of status and one of the earliest arts.
The Paradise Garden Project at the Carrack Modern Art will celebrate this vibrant history of the garden, as well as its contemporary importance, through a multimedia installation created, recorded and gardened by the local community.
“The entire Paradise Garden Project should invoke a sense of the sacredness of nature and by being inside the gallery, one will be a part of it,” related Lee Moore Crawford, one of the lead organizers and artists in the project. “The viewer will be a part of the exhibit as one may be in a cathedral, mosque, temple or garden.”
Earlier this year, Crawford contacted artists from the local community to put together this installation. Crawford was inspired by the concept of Persian gardens, which use aesthetic means to play with the balance of elements. The aim of a garden is to apply the organization of the aesthetic to the natural aspects of the earth. In particular, Persian gardens balance sunlight with shade and interior structures with exterior landscapes. This balance is similarly evoked when living in a city where nature and development are often at odds. The exhibit seeks to bridge these polarized concepts through this artistic space.
For artist Katherine Whalen, the exhibit represents the evolving change representative of nature’s relentlessness.
“There’s this whole idea of change, of taking a walk and seeing nature along your journey, like moss or flowers. Then, when you take the same walk a few weeks later and you encounter the same elements, you realize they have decayed—they are changed, and so are you,” said Whalen.
As her piece, Whalen is contributing organic fashion. She was inspired by a photography book that showed the organic fashions of African tribes that adorned themselves with mud, braided leaves and sprays of yellow berries. Like the communities she admired, she wanted to create fashion from natural elements that both celebrated human skill and the beauty of the earth. Whalen decorated a hat with various types of moss and other living features. The hat itself has thrived with growing fungi and sprouting leaves. Consistent with Whalen’s comments, the hat has changed over time as parts of it have grown and decayed.
Many other pieces in the installation are similar to Whalen’s organic hat, utilizing resources from the environment. For her part, Crawford is contributing a photo series of floral elements in her yard from early spring through late summer.
“The photos act kind of like a diary: abstracted recordings of flowers arranged in the same place and photographed in the same place,” said Crawford. “The photos are in an installation arranged behind a table with a living still-life of flowers and a string of prayer beads.”
In addition to Whalen and Crawford, other artists include Maryah Smith Overman, who is making a sculptural entrance; Jennifer Collins-Mancour, who is doing a figurative sculpture with plant and insect elements; entomologist Annie Spikes, who is making a lattice from bees’ honeycombs; Linda Dallas, who is creating on-site window drawings inspired by orchards; Anne Marie Kennedy, who is combining botanicals in ethereal handmade paper creations; and Ben Greene who will bring a seven-foot tall living wall.
Appropriately, the word “garden” descends from the Old English term “geard,” which means barrier or enclosure, and this meaning often still holds true today. Gardens continue to be an enclosed space, even more dramatically emphasized within developed cities like Durham. In a landscape dominated by inorganic skyscrapers and cemented sidewalks, entering into a garden can feel like entering into a whole other world. The barriers of a garden are contrary to the aim of the Paradise Garden Project, which seeks to bridge the distance between the urban environment and natural habitats.
Crawford’s initiative seeks to broaden its reach by not only including the local, personal community but also the ecological community. Many aspects of the exhibit were collaborative, and most of the materials were taken from the immediate environment. Apart from its variety of materials, the exhibit brings together a myriad of perspectives and mediums, allowing it to become a space for conversation, music, drawing and poetry.
“The issues explored may not be comfortable but there is the innate beauty of nature,” reflected Crawford. “Hopefully, by seeing oneself in and relating to the art, we become a part of the installations and events and hence a part of the web of life.”
The Paradise Garden Project runs until October 5 at The Carrack Modern Art. On September 28, there will be a workshop with music and discussion. Other events include an evening of poetry on October 3, and the closing reception with a gallery talk on October 5.