Gardens: Patriotic/ Subversive/Artistic

on Wednesday, 06 November 2013. Posted in Artists, Blog

Contemporary artists like Nicole Fournier, Critical Art Ensemble, Natalie Jeremijenko, and Steiner/Lenzlinger have extended the cultural role of gardens into the contemporary era. They are expanding a tradition that can be traced back to the World War I ‘Liberty Gardens’, Depression era ‘Relief Gardens’, and World War II ‘Victory Gardens’ that were all motivated by necessity. Wars, poverty, and economic depression convinced practitioners of all three kinds of gardens that grand strategic plans could neither liberate people from oppression, nor guarantee the safety and security of the populace. Because each of these historic events disrupted the production and distribution of necessities, masses of people were motivated to garden in order to ensure their own sustenance and to share scarce resources. The success of these movements demonstrates that horticultural skills were broadly disseminated throughout the population.

However, the popularity of these gardening movements did not survive after World War II ended. People who were no longer “digging for victory” began to associate gardening with disagreeable reminders of shortages, dangers, and conflicts. The public was easily lured away from growing their own food by the bevy of new packaged, canned, and frozen foods that suddenly appeared on store shelves. These new products were as time-saving and convenient as gardening was labor-intensive and difficult. Toiling in the soil faded as Pop culture boomed.

This trend began to shift in the 1960s and 1970s. ‘Flower power’ blossomed into a full-scale resurgence of green consciousness that infused the counterculture of the era. Domestic food production fit neatly into a life-style agenda that was ant-nuclear, anti-war, anti-industry, anti-corporation, and anti-government. The slogan “Food Not Bombs” became the rallying cry of the generation.

After languishing during the 1980s and 1990s, broad scale gardening enterprises are flourishing once again in back yards and urban lots, hydroponics and aquaponics, window sills and raised beds, CSAs and garden clubs. They are also flourishing among artists. Through their creative interventiosn, a wholly new paradigm of human interactions with botanicals is being established.

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