CIBULKA PARK, PRAGUE
LET ME SEE,
SOMETIMES YOUR TREES JUST HYPNOTIZE ME’
As ‘Cibulka’ park was originally created as an english garden in the 19th century, it can be seen as an example of man-made nature: a seeming natural environment in which nature was restructured and already is combined with architectural elements. To enhance this site’s characteristic properties, art works are integrated into nature for the duration of the ‘exhibition’.
The combination of opposites (artificial/man-made-nature), which nowadays became quite usual for the environment of a park, already implies questions concerning the topic of environmental aesthetics. Those are reflected further by proposing the park environment itself as the subject of the exhibition, resulting in contradictory visitor’s expectations moving between a park and an exhibition:
How do we perceive nature? How did we learn to perceive (human) art?
How to appreciate nature or the environment aesthetically, when we cannot have the distance necessary for contemplation, as we do in usual exhibitions? How to even look at our environment, when we are surrounded by it from all sides? Is aesthetic pleasure possible when going for a walk in the park? What happens when the conception of art becomes the model for appreciating nature?
Accessible through QR codes on site, the essay, exploring theories on environmental aesthetics in connection to the displayed works and the park environment, virtually spreads across the place.
The installations were specifically conceptualised for the site and function on the border of being ‘devices that seem to turn environment into a contemplative object’, but at the same time the ‘exhibition’ in its whole challenges the visitor to actively become part of it - referring on the ‘aesthetics of engagement’, as proposed by Arnold Berleant.
Cibulka was originally a homestead owned by the aristocracy of Cibulkovi of Veleslavin. In the nineteenth century it was turned into an English Garden once it was purchased by the bishop Thun-Hohenstein. After his death in 1826 the park remained without systematic care and the technical state of the buildings inside the park started to get worse. Many of the buildings are now in a ruin like state and the park became abandoned going back to its state of wild nature.
Just as parks are sort of a hybrid environment composed by nature and humans also ruins have somewhat of a hybrid character. Buildings or sculptures originally made by man with time become again a part of nature. They often have a nostalgic feeling tied to them, - a sense of past - , they evoke decay and memory. Ruins are half human artefacts and half nature. But even with this hybrid character, nature is the one taking the human made object back to the natural materials it has been made of.
The aesthetic approach is one of the many approaches we can take when observing the world. We can observe the world in a practical manner by taking the things we see solely for their practical purpose. With an aesthetic approach we appreciate the object with a certain disinterestedness, as Kant proposed in the 18th century: we set aside our interest to be able to receive aesthetic satisfaction. Kant believes that art is intentionally produced, yet remains purposive without a purpose, meaning we are observing the object for its own sake. This principle of disinterestedness has become an axiom in the discussions about art.
When entering an exhibition, a cinema, a theatre or any place, we are prepared to be observing art, - we already have a certain distance created, a psychical distance, as described by E. Bullough in his essay ‘Psychical distance’. This distance not only prepares us on how to observe art but also gives us a guide – simply the institution of a museum, cinema etc. already gives us a lead that we will be in touch with art. But how do we do this when we are in touch with the environment around us? And is it even possible? We are being surrounded by it and when aesthetically appreciating it what often happens is that we start treating it as if it was a human-made art object. That can be problematic since human-made art and nature itself are very different. We would start treating nature with the principle of disinterestedness and aesthetic judgement. But aesthetic judgements about nature are subjective and relative since nature has not been made by an artist trying to express a certain idea in a certain style.
But can this aesthetic principle of disinterestedness work when applied to the environment? Arnold Berleant proposed that when being in touch with the environment we should approach it with a new principle, which he calls ‘engagement’, - an idea that emphasizes the mutual participation of the perceiver and the perceived. We should perceive environment from within, looking not at it but in it – we become participants not observers. We stop contemplating in a disinterested manner but become fully engaged in/with the natural world.
Nature has no frame, therefore we often start looking for our own viewfinders: wandering through raw nature or even a park we often stop to enjoy a certain view, we stop and look for a viewfinder, looking at the natural view in front of us as if we would be looking at a picture or taking a photo of it. But doesn’t this practise reduce the surrounding, doesn’t it turn nature into a contemplative object? As Berleant suggests, the more adequate way of looking at nature, since we are surrounded by it – would be engaging with it and becoming an active participant. When wandering through nature all our senses are activated, we see, we can smell the grass or the air after rain, we can feel the cold or the warmth, we hear the insects, birds or the noise of the forest.
We can change the way we see things, - and either see something in the things that remind us of other things or we can see them for their different uses. A piece of wood can serve as a place to sit and a large leaf can serve us as a protection from rain. We change our perception of things depending on which use they are supposed to have. Whether practical or aesthetic.
One thing which is regarded as very typical for nature, environment or gardens in general is constant change - opposed to art works, that are outlasting the time, are preserved in exactly the same state they were created. But while walking around in a park we are in touch with things of many different ages. Plants grow a different speed, the sculptures in the park might be added at different times and the grass might be freshly cut. Nature is dependent of the climate, of the animals living there, on time in general. We can also sense time by the change of light during the day in one and the same place, that therefore can appear in many different moods - a rainy grey day, or a sunny bright one. Or watching the sun set, what confronts us with exactly the time span in which we live and age.
It so happens that through this constant change we notice ourselves – simply because we are the ones noticing. Mara Miller – a philosopher concerned with environmental aesthetics – describes this by changing Descartes's famous quote „I think – therefore I am“ to „I notice – therefore I am“.
A park is something one is in and surrounded by. All your senses are activated by it. The possibility of becoming part of the environment and completely indulging into your surrounding world, enables the ‘aesthetics of engagement’ leading to deep affection, that often is not possible with the majority of art works, that are lacking the possibility of interaction or aren’t addressing all senses at once.
Aesthetic experience is a process which dissolves the contradictions between the subject/object, inner/outer, nature/cultural, body/vision, and reaches its climax in a paradoxical modality of physical state - it is both subjectively non-recurrent experience and a selfless and self-forgetful state.
How to treat nature when appreciating it aesthetically is a difficult question. Applying the usual model we use when observing human-made art can become problematic when using it to appreciate natural environment since those two are very different things. Human-made art often has a meaning behind it or a concept whereas nature just ‘solely exists’ and we are the ones giving meaning to it.
We give nature shapes that remind us of our own life – seeing vein structures in leaves and creatures in natural objects.
Nature has no frame – but what about parks which are framed by the walls and made by men, often full of man-made sculptures and other artefacts?
How do we percieve nature? How did we learn to percieve (human) art?
Where is the right spot to stand when percieving a natural object? And can this object still function when taken out of its enviroment?
But what is the right way when looking and appriciating nature?
Do we always need to be looking for viewfinders?
Are we an active part-taker or a passive one when looking at nature – and can we choose which one we want to be – and if we can which one is the right way to percieve nature – and is there any right way?
ESSAY BY NOEMI LIBOROVA
series of three blankets,
(approx. 2,7x3,6m / 1,2x1,2m / 0,7x1m
from plastic foil, fabric,
permanent marker/textile paint)
ISABELL ALEXANDRA MELDNER
“As an object that is defined by its function of making your stay in a park more comfortable, a pic-nic blanket is common to be seen in a park and easily integrates into this environment.
Appearing like a minimalistic painting, but also functioning as a blanket at the same time,
the work ‘pic-nic blanket’ questions the border of defining an art work as a work of art. It plays with the change of perspective and depends on the viewer engaging with it in order to engage with the environment, and not just contemplate the blanket as a work of art. The viewer becomes part of it, becomes placed in the environment, - placed in the picture.
When seeing the blanket, you first approach it as an art work, as it seems like a painting lying on the grass, your focus lies on the work itself, contemplating the painted image, its composition, material textures etc.
But as soon as you sit down, you cannot properly look at the work in its whole, as you usually would do with an art work. Does your interaction with the work, by using it in its practical function, turns it into a normal picnic blanket, that has nothing to do with art?
By sitting down, it works as a device to look at the surrounding, it offers one position, like a scenic outlook, a proposed standpoint you can take to perceive the environment. Further you make yourself even smaller opposed to the trees and enable the experience to sit or lay down in the park and enjoy the nature.
If you then stand up again, you can look at the blanket again in the matter of looking at a work of art, but maybe also perceive its surrounding environment as a part of the work itself, even defining the works meaning and idea. “ (ISABELL ALEXANDRA M.)
(four sculptures from wire, found wood, soil, grass and water, the work was created on site and remains there)
“The project ‘Entangled Fantasies’, is about recomposing structures of lost bodies which I want to imagine in a specific space. Throughout the use of found structures of natural material (wood, stones, etc.) on spot and adding forms to it, I want to resuscitate the degenerated body of an imagined creature. By forming these myths, I believe in charming lost and forgotten spirits of the place and take them back, a step closer to the realm of the living.
From old wood blunts there shall emerge new organisms and organic structures. I take the earth on the spot, water from the near by pond, sand from the beach and hay from the local orchard. Who knows what will revolve from these clay objects, but the mixture of earth, hay, sand and water as the substance for new living things. A fungus mycelium, an organic matter for larvae or the nest for beetles? The structures are the product of its surrounding, made of its surrounding and emerging from its surrounding.” (NICOLAS PROKOP)
The entirely site specific, hybrid work is reshaping the environment, taking its substance and composing it in new, man-made structures, resembling sculptures on a pedestal. By doing so, on one hand you could say the environment becomes objectified, by creating an art work out of its substance, but on the other hand, the emerging organic creatures are a view catcher which then lead on, into their environment, into which they disappear and integrate, almost indiscernible from it. It depends upon the viewer, either you approach it as a work of art in context of the exhibition event, or as part of the natural environment in which it remains.
(ISABELL ALEXANDRA M.)
(oil on canvas, wood, clay)
LETS CRY AND MAKE A MOVE AT THE SAME TIME
”The image of a soft and bulbous piece of fruit that rots quickly became a metaphor for a corrupt greedy administration. The pear has long been admired in many cultures and, although never as popular as apple, remains one of the world’s most admired temperate fruits. (VOJTĚCH HLÁVAČEK)
To further read about the pear, a scientific paper on
"The pear in history" was available through a QR code.
(installation from wood, branches, plastic foil)
(sculpture from wood, wire, plaster, paint)
“People in their never ending search for nature's perfection create objects, which they then give a meaning, but unlike nature’s unknowable guidelines and purposes these objects and those meanings are purely artificial and therefore different. Even looking at, enjoying and qualifying nature is made by human hand, all of our experiences, even the closest to nature itself are just made objects with given purposes. We are just stuck with this painting, independent go the angle or our own quality which we use while looking at it.”
“This is one of the many elements ready to be used for the creation of a park. Objectified, dismembered thing, taken apart, catalogued, described and carefully placed for maximal efficiency.” (HUGO CHMELAŘ)