WCMT Fellowship 2016 research: innovation in participation in public urban green space.
Berlin, 7th June 2016
Jared Gardinger’s ‘Impossible Forest’ garden at Ufer Studios, Wedding.
I was introduced to Jared’s project through a mutual friend, artist Neil Callaghan – something about a special garden in the centre of a dance art complex, of interest.
A dense hot day, with full afternoon sun in Wedding, the industrial area in north Berlin.
Large square dance studios in a former industrial complex, workshop spaces, broken things around, people moving, conversation, hot tarmac, broken glass, smoking in the shade of a tall disused chimney.
And in the centre of the tarmac space, between the buildings along the axis, a stand of dead trees, with an abundant green rolling floor.
A good beginning for my research in Berlin: Impossible Forest is a manifestation of the meeting point I’m searching for between urban space and nature – one made consciously, co-creatively. This is a garden with a process at the very heart of it, one that invites notice, pause.
Street trams were cleaned here once. Now the city’s dance programmes live here at Ufer Studios, and they host artist and choreographer networks. Tanznacht, a biannual platform for dance-productions from Berlin-based choreographers and artists, invited Jared to create the work under the title ‘companions’.
Jared had made a garden space already at Ufer Studios – a fern and plant ladened rectangular shallow pool in a disused outdoor corner – “a project of giving as well as a project of listening” – one that transforms the ecology of the area, softens, undoes the concrete lines and surfaces, and invites attention.
Experimenting with plant intelligence as something to respond to, assist, listen to, and be patient around, Jared is working with nature not as something separate or objective, but as something we are essentially part of. We are nature. And making a garden is an integral interdependent process.
The Impossible Forest is a sculpture, with movement both perceptible and imperceptible.
The strong dead trees are the only sunken objects, in concrete. The soil, sandy and not so fertile, is spread on the surface of the tarmac, shaped, with some plants, seeding, some self-seeding.
How to approach it? We took off our shoes, walked through it, along it, while it was being watered.
An abundance of plants – surprises and mysteries – a rockery, self seeded hemp plants, wisteria, pumpkin and cucumber climbing the trunks. Mallow, red clover, yellow mustard. Bees, insects, birds – life uses the opportunity. And now this is obviously both station and habitat.
Created in March 2016, The Impossible Forest is unfolding, unfinished – moving between decay and growth, it’s a circle both physically and metaphorically, and one that strongly affects and changes the environment and ecology of the Ufer Studios. There are connections and cycles through to the body, bones, organic matter, exchange, states of living.
The standing trees are dead but of course they are also alive and provide life both in relation to present habitat (birds arrive, insects inhabit) and through future decomposition. Soon after the trees were installed, a woodpecker moved in.
And completely brilliantly, the dead cherry tree has sprouted a small branch that has leafed green and bright, using the sap stored from the dead tree. What will happen to this shoot of life force?
Taken by something Rudolph Steiner wrote, Jared kept the thought of bringing together decay and dying with growth and flowering: to make visible two processes not often made explicit in a garden:
“It’s routed in the practicing to be able to perceive the imperceptible. Give space in your life to notice things that are decaying and dying, and give space in your life to notice things that are blossoming and blooming. And then to create a space to allow for feelings and thoughts to arrive, and they will create shapes, imperceptible forms.”
“I had to make a visualisation of the forest for the funding application. It was a bit of a dream, the craggy trees. I had to learn about sourcing the trees, finding and cutting the trees, and working it out ecologically. These trees had already been felled, or they were dead already. Steiner talked about a tree taking all the etheric energy from the earth to the crown, where the growth is, so as a result, you cannot grow anything around the bottom of the tree. I wanted to create this impossibility of having flowers and this garden life around the base of the trees.
Dead trees – a lot of people weren’t interested in it when I proposed it! And it is a provocative, challenging garden. Someone asked me: ‘Why do you feel the need to fill space?‘ and it’s a good question. It wasn’t the intention to fill space, but to harness creative energy into another form.”
“The Impossible Forest has changed the traffic, slows people, you have to go around, it’s changed the patterns of speed and direction. It’s created a meeting point, while I’m watering or weeding, for strangers, for people who live in the neighbourhood, who come in with a curiosity. This place creates a vulnerability. In Berlin we don’t interact with strangers much. Here, there’s a different approach to how people come up to me. The bees, the birds, there’s a whole other traffic, from the seeding to the pollinating.”
“In relation to my work so far, the biggest lesson is never-ending process, and the unfinished. I would have been satisfied with the just the trees only for a year to see what happened. I was in the mode of production – I’ve never had a process so exposed before. A lot of questions from people here: when will it be finished? when can I use it? Nothing is ever done. If here say I make a mistake or something doesn’t work, I learn, then I change it. But I won’t know for a while if my solution will work. This garden is a reflection of that process.
What’s going on? – it’s the most important question. What’s happening here, now? It’s enough. It’s my biggest lesson.”
I ask about the challenges of the project. Sometimes the pond garden gets trashed probably by some of the young people and kids coming through, all times of the day and evening. Stones pushed in it, stuff pulled around. So far Impossible Forest has gone unharmed. Jared talks very patiently about it with insight and understanding – many of the the young people don’t have any relationship with nature. He talks with the kids, experiments with different things – the last time all the rocks ended up in the pond, he left them there. The football academy opposite has an exit sign that reads ‘Destroy Berlin’. He’s questioned the sense of that message with the school, but they take it as a sporting power chord and don’t relate it to the immediate neighbourhood.
Three hours of watering and conversation.
I’m more than moved by this inspiring tree garden and the thinking and feeling that Jared has made it with. It’s golden hour. Perceptions heightened, connections made visible and fired.
The porosity of the garden to the immediate environment, to the passing traffic both human and non-human, and the presence of it on the routes of the neighbourhood is an essential part of the vitality, of the proposal. It’s an art and nature inter species social process.
The watering created pools in the small valleys in the sandy soil. As I left a blackbird was preening in the golden hour, post-bathe on a tree branch. Without the garden, that event would not have happened.
The Impossible Forest is a fine example of my triangle of interest: urban space, nature, social art.