Monday, 24 September 2012

Enclosures and trespassers

cut seed bolls, retting flax, September 2012
The etymology of the word 'garden' can be traced back to the word 'enclosure'. As such, it is a territory - one that, whether in imagination or in reality, may be trespassed.

On Wednesday last week, for the fourth time, I went to work with the flax at the garden only to discover that an invisible hand had cut off seed bolls and removed large portions flax from where it's been drying and retting in the field (dew retting is the slow rotting process by which the linen fibres separate from the woody "boon" or outer stem through moisture, heat, and the collaboration of a multitude of micro-organisms, click here for more on retting).

Yet who is this human collaborator, co-performer, trickster or simply hungry, knowledgeable, and assertive person? What do these transgressions mean for this research? If this were scientific research, where yields and outcomes ought to be measured in standard units, lost flax would be one kind of problem. But stolen or broken flax as part of an arts-based research project framed around a site-specific installation poses altogether different kinds of questions.
retting flax, The Orchard Garden

Perhaps Elizabeth Grosz, a feminist philosopher who has written extensively on the relationships between art, territory, the body, and chaos, can be helpful here: “before there can be a house, before there can be art, there must be some kind of frame, and that frame isn’t literally a wooden frame; it’s the laying of a field over chaos so that that field is now consistent and enables production to occur.” (For the entire interview, go here)

Furthermore, in Grosz’s understanding of art, art’s "fundamental goal is to produce sensations—and sensations, if they’re complicated enough, if they’re interesting enough, if they’re surprising enough, of course they generate thought.”

Well, considering the work of my invisible co-performer as artistic intervention rather than simply stealing has certainly aroused a number of sensations. From frustration (yes, I swore and muttered nasty things when I saw the destruction!) to the desire to build fences (see image below) to, ultimately, sensations of deep uncertainty as I reflected on why we need fences and how we long for words to act as fences, all to protect human activity on a particular territory.

Informed as this research is by my historical explorations into problematic connections to place during Nazi Germany and throughout the Indian Residential School system, my desire to build fences returns me to questions of how we connect to land. While Grosz suggests a universal need to create frames, I continue to worry about the violence that these frames may provoke.

Tedding the retting flax in the garden, the quiet rustling of the golden plants contradicts and settles the turmoil within (see video below). And I wonder what the difference is between conceptual frames and literal frames.

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