God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which buildings and palaces are but gross handiworks …
— Francis Bacon
Essentially gardens are products of natural phenomena and human artifice but it is impossible to configure them without expressing, however unconsciously, ideas about nature. Layouts of trees, lawns, walkways, fountains and ponds reflect the values, beliefs and cultural art forms of the era and region to which they belong. Different cultures invest them with different values. The mediaeval cloister garden was an expression of that era’s Christian theology. Likewise the Islamic gardens exemplified Muslim norms and the public park of the 19th century was built to remedy the ills of the Industrial Revolution.
But physical characteristics of gardens change over time. In today’s mutable environment, gardens are an uneven patchwork of utopian and dystopian spaces. In the recent Koel Gallery show titled The Glory Of The Garden, David Alesworth examines gardens from several perspectives “to probe humanity’s culturally specific relationships with the natural world and towards understanding nature more as a social problem.”
David Alesworth elevates the garden from a common amenity space to an area of public responsibility
Alesworth is an artist, art teacher, a landscape designer and horticultural consultant. His interdisciplinary understanding of these genres enables him to identify issues of conflict between man and nature. And his artworks enable viewers to look anew at the ubiquitous garden environment and to understand that nature needs to be treated as a living entity.
The Machine In The Garden series — prints littered with mechanical detritus or scarred with complex motorised gardening tools — portray man’s use of machine as a deliberate, destructive or authoritative force. The ‘Gingko Globe’ print from the Global Forest series illustrates how, in the globalisation of plants and people, there is erosion of cultural knowledge and traditions. Conversely, prints of plants in ‘Aliens at Home’, ‘Archive Series’ and ‘Kew Letter’ demonstrate the garden as a space where different eras meet and cultures are brought together.
The artist prompts dialogue with cultural history, coloniality and craft art interventions by superimposing garden-patterned oriental carpets with embroidery in dyed sheep’s wool. ‘The Hyde Park’, ‘Kashan’ and ‘Versailles Kashan’ are reminders of a massive Kashan carpet in Alesworth’s childhood home in Surrey. Each print carries embroidered maps and route patterns of Hyde Park and the Versailles gardens. The presence of a labyrinth at the heart of a garden creates a journey inside another journey. In this sense, the garden is a reflection of the artist’s life path as he works between Pakistan and England.
Alesworth’s artworks enable viewers to look anew at the ubiquitous garden environment and to understand that nature needs to be treated as a living entity.
The carpet is also a transportable microcosm that artists refer to in order to question our representations of the world, and our relation to these representations. According to Michel Foucault’s theory of the Heterotopia (worlds within worlds) “… the garden is a rug on to which the whole world comes to enact its symbolic perfection, and the rug is a sort of garden that can move across space. The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world.”
Conceptually, this exhibition is an attitude-changer of sorts. Associating social and cultural issues with the garden, Alesworth elevates this common amenity space to an area of public responsibility. Gardens are nature’s delights and human beings are part of nature. We should play a role both in the transformation and preservation of gardens.
“Glory Of The Garden” was displayed at the Koel Gallery in Karachi from December 18, 2018 to January 3, 2019
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 6th, 2019