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The Garden is a living artwork that embraces the dichotomy between the natural environment and a synthetic man-made experience. Aitken’s The Garden is a new installation that brings the viewer into the center of the artwork and asks them to physically immerse, participate and become the subject of the installation. Inside an enormous bulletproof glass chamber each viewer can destroy a sterile modern environment.


Set in a huge dark warehouse space the viewer walks inside, their eyes adjust, and they see a thick lush jungle growing under artificial grow lights. Walking closer, the viewer enters inside the jungle and discovers a huge rectangular glass cube. Inside the glass room is a man-made environment replete with generic elements of modern life: tables and chairs, a cabinet, and lights.


In The Garden, the visitor both experiences the artwork from the outside while simultaneously becoming the subject when inside. One at a time they enter inside this perfect sterile room and can destroy absolutely everything. The Garden is a synthetic vision of the environment in direct conflict with the external view of the humid, thick natural greenery. The catalyst that activates the artwork is raw and brutal human expression and its release is at the core of this installation. Over the eight-week duration of this installation, the viewers will occupy the space and have the opportunity to obliterate every object in the interior. Each expression will be unique and personal to each viewer.


With this activation The Garden is a new form of artwork where the installation functions as a stage that is physical and real, while it is simultaneously filtered through a lens and streamed live from four separate cameras. In essence, this installation can be everywhere in the world where it can be accessed digitally. The viewer becomes the viewed, blurring the lines between reality and a film set. By turning the lens on the viewer the artwork extends far past its physical boundaries.


The Garden will debut at the Aros Triennial - The Garden (section The Future) in Aarhus, Denmark and will be on view from June 3 to July 30, 2017 -  The Garden will then go on tour to additional national and international venues whose dates will be confirmed in the next few months. 


The Garden: interview between Marie Nipper and Doug Aitken


MN: Tell me about your work for ‘The Garden’.


DA: The Garden creates a living artwork that embraces change and the dichotomy between the natural environment and a synthetic man-made experience. It creates an encounter that is active and voyeuristic at the same time. In this large-scale installation, we find a multi-layer sculpture. The outer ring contains a lush green forest, dense with life and breathing moisture and oxygen. This forest grows upwards and is anchored in the root system and earth below it. Inside, we find a transparent room. In this space, we encounter a man-made environment with generic elements of modern life: tables and chairs, a cabinet, a television, and lights. This is the ‘built’ life, with the basic necessities of habitation in the modern domestic world. This clean white sterile environment is the habitat of much of our population.


MN: There seems to be a very consciously staged contrast between the natural elements and the man-made ones in the installation?


DA: Yes, the dichotomy between these two layers of the artwork is immense, but this is not a tranquil sculpture, this is a living artwork. I imagine it as something that changes continuously throughout the exhibition period. Viewers can schedule short time spans where they can go inside the space and participate in the act of destruction and release. One visitor after another can enter and spend time inside the space, releasing energy in whatever way they wish. This room, based on an ‘anger room’, is a space where individuals are allowed to destroy everything around them. It’s a release of and from the modern environment – a space designed as an outlet for aggression and expression, and a way for achieving release.


MN: Isn’t that turning the traditional notion of nature as a place for emotional release on its head? I mean, in the beginning of the 20th century, city parks, for example, were seen as safety vents where people could get release from the frustrations of modern city life. Nature was seen as a necessity to keep the civilised and cultured society running.


DA: This project fuses nature with a sterilised modernised environment and breaks down the barriers between nature and mechanization. Nature has been a place, as you describe, to gain respite and release from the stresses of modern city life. We’re witnessing, in the 21st century, nature and machines wedging themselves closer to each other and the line that separated the organic and industrial is now muddled, removing the defined space of reprieve that the 20th century garden was able to provide. In the created confines of The Garden, this line has become blurred. A part of The Garden is living and you encounter a lush, dense and jungle-like landscape. As viewers explore, they come upon other parts of the artwork that are inherently architectural. The simple and serene glass structure recalls minimalism, but when the space is activated as the ’anger room’, the tranquility and calmness of the minimalistic room is disrupted and becomes a charged emotional space pulsing with energy.


MN: By referring to minimalism and in the combination of industrial prefabricated objects in a natural setting, you seem to pick up a dialogue with the land artists of the 1970s. How do you relate your work to their practice?


DA: I’m interested in artworks that create systems, artworks that disrupt or challenge the locations that they inhabit. Whether that’s within a museum or gallery, or, as some artists did, starting in the 1960s and 70s, by creating works outside of the confines of traditional architecture, such as land art, is immaterial. Much of the land art of this period was quite abstract and holistic in many ways.


I think, in a project like The Garden, I wanted something that had a narrative with more friction and agitation. I wasn’t so much interested in working with the harmony of nature in the landscape, but instead with the contrast between viewing the landscape as something which can be tamed and refined versus a place that is wild, dangerous, and desperate for survival.


The idea of minimalism came into this project when I started thinking about how reductive our lives have become. We have streamlined the dwellings that we live in and the tools we use to such an extreme. I wanted the architecture of The Garden to echo this concept, to be very minimalistic and clean, to exist as if almost without a human fingerprint.


The human aspect of this artwork is the artwork, viewers are both inside and outside the looking glass, in this case the vitrine, and they are contained like a specimen that is being watched while acting out their desires in an absolutely uninhibited way. The viewer inside the installation is under the eye of the viewer outside of the artwork. Everything here is transparent.


I suppose there are shades of land art and minimalism here but they exist in a disjointed kind of way. The clean sterile minimalism of the glass cube and its white generic furniture quickly give way to unbridled violence where the clean lines erode and crash into rubble and debris. Like a programmed cycle, everything is replaced, made clean again and the cycle repeats. This is a new futuristic landscape; one which is created and grows under an artificial sun.


MN: You have previously stated, that you don’t see a landscape defined solely by its physical or tactile qualities. Instead your interest lies in the psychological landscape, the space between fiction and non-fiction. In this work, there seems to be an element of fiction, a staging of props, natural ones as well as man-made, which creates a friction or tension in the ‘normal’ relationship between the artificial and the natural?


DA: In many ways, every new generation illustrates and defines their presence through a world that they have constructed around them. Their architecture, design, and personal choices of living and lifestyle. In The Garden, I wanted the environment to be modern, minimalistic, clean, sterile, and white. The furniture has been synthesized and designed in a way distilling it into a visual representation of its word descriptor and devoid of any natural reference. It becomes a prop in a list of items that are placed in a ’room.’


There is something about the artwork that does allude to cinema and film sets, the idea of walking into a built reality, a set that has been constructed. However, I also like the idea that in entering this blank slate space, viewers are walking inside their own personal movie and can have their own encounter within their own private fiction.


MN: In many of your works, the natural and the built environments are interlaced rather than polarised and the traditional duality between the natural and the man-made is dissolved. But in this installation, it’s as if nature and artifice are folded into one another, challenging the traditional dichotomy between the concepts of nature and culture, the authentic and the artificial, the natural and the man-made, the inhabited and the uninhabited Earth?


DA: There is a tension between the natural and artificial worlds. One is confronted by a dense jungle, a living, breathing environment, but this living curtain, growing in the darkness of an industrial warehouse and under artificial LED light, recedes to expose a minimalistic man-made stage. There’s a sense that we’re watching something which is forbidden as both viewers and voyeurs. This is an encounter without authorship, there’s no starting point to this story. In this encounter, it’s the viewer who is empowered as both witness and auteur, asked to both react and act and given the opportunity to push their expression to an extreme.


MN: It almost looks like a scenography where a story has been acted out?


DA: The narrative becomes a space where the viewer both watches and is watched. We are the voyeur and the subject in The Garden and these roles are constantly in flux. A dark warehouse space is the setting for The Garden and through darkness, you approach the artwork from a distance, it glows with artificial light that illuminates the dense green foliage. We ask, what’s this? What’s in front of us? Like a living film set, we’re drawn into this new mysterious place.