The Meaning of, and Possibilities for, the Garden

Four You Gallery
April 14, 2021
 | Harriet Abbott

Whilst many countries, including my own, are slowly moving out of lockdown and towards a more familiar existence, one’s thoughts are still embedded in nature. ‘Natural Social Distancing’ comes at a time when some are beginning to re-enter the world, different to how we once knew it. Our relationship with nature has changed dramatically over the past few years, and the paintings in Jingyi Wang’s exhibition reflect on this ever volatile dynamic.

Jingyi Wang-Wandering Earth Ball #3, 2021-Oil on Canvas-107 x 107 cm

I wrote the below essay about a year ago, when we were in the early throws of lockdown 1 in the UK.

The Meaning of, and Possibilities for, the Garden

I visited Little Sparta, the untamed garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay in August 2018 for the first and only time. From 1966, the artist conceived composed landscapes of poetics allayed in stone. Due to its vulnerability to weathering and the volatile Scottish seasons, I will arguably never meet the same garden again. A captivating force, Little Sparta as I encountered it, became the subject of my undergraduate dissertation: completed just over 2 years ago. I proposed that the reader and I took ‘a walk from object, through language, and to the body’ in a philosophical endeavour to know the components of the garden.

Little Sparta - Ian Hamilton & Sue Finlay's Garden

On the Kent coast, 450 miles South of Little Sparta, and 70 miles from where I am now, is a very different garden, albeit one with equally dissident potential and lyrical inserts. Artist Derek Jarman purchased and subsequently created the garden of Prospect Cottage in 1986, having recently been diagnosed with HIV. Situated on the tail of Dungeness B nuclear power station, upon desolate wasteland beaten by salt-laden winds, there couldn’t be a more unwilling habitat for a garden.

Prospect Cottage - Derek Jarman's Garden, Dungeness

My thoughts come to it now, in such times of uncertainty, as it stands a beacon of hope. Jarman did not reside there to escape the unyielding demands of existence, but instead to understand them – ‘to craft a poetics of survival within crisis’. The Art Fund campaign to save the idyllic cottage for the nation was launched in early 2020 and was swiftly reckoned successful. I welcomed this news and encouraging reminder of the withstanding resilience and redemptive power of creativity in times of adversity. Both Little Sparta and the garden at Prospect cottage hold true the stark and sustaining relationship between vulnerability and miraculous possibility.

Unlike the gardens mentioned, although just as full of sustaining promise, my parent’s garden (also in Kent) has been a place of reassurance whilst in lockdown.

A luxury that feels like a cheat: a place where I can wander without going elsewhere, or sit with birdsong and wait for nothing.

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