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Etant Donné... Un Jardin

Each year, the Medieval Château of Chaumont-sur-Loire hosts an International Garden Festival on its grounds, featuring the 25 winners of its competition call. Our project for the 16th edition of the festival, Etant Donné... Un Jardin took on the themes of the French Formal Garden, the English stroll garden, along with the idea of nature as a cultural construct. By opposing two mirrors to form an endless allée of trees, we produced a mise-en-abîme within a narrow strip of greenery loosely arranged to produce a new landscape among a purposely bare and indeterminate terrain.

A slice of garden is made visible as an object stationed on a barren landscape. It can be penetrated and strolled through from within. An irregularly arranged strip of trees and ground cover surrounds a path connecting the site entry to the viewfinder wall. A peek through the wall’s aperture opens the visitors’ view out to the infinite allée, framing the vanishing point. From the “outside” of the slice, the garden installation can be experienced as a sectional cut through nature. It sits on a purposefully blank bed of white gravel, contrasting the strip-as-imported-object with the perceived notion of a pre-existing ground condition.

The free-standing Viewfinder stands in the way of the path through the stroll garden. Viewers of various heights are able to simultaneously look through the thickness of a two-dimensional forested wall-papered image framing an aperture into an alternative garden reality. The visitor is not able to stand within the space of this illusionary formal infinity garden, leaving the view free of its viewers’ presence. The space is filled with a dark-bottom reflective pool, propagating the infinite image of the platanus trees both in distance and depth.

The wallpaper mural is made of a digitally printed vinyl applied to a steel and wooden structure holding up large glass panels on its other side. As one looks out through the frame, he/she is unaware that the sheet of glass is in fact a one-way mirror, reflecting a similarly built structure placed 3,50 meters further. Two platanus trees are placed equi- distantly from the mirrors, and 3,50 meters apart from one another. This allows for a perfect mise-en-abîme setting forming an infinite allée of trees evocative of the traditional French formal garden. At the end of the festival, the vinyl skin was recycled into computer bags.

Etant Donné... Un Jardin was included in the Michael R. Taylor edited retrospective exhibit catalogue Marcel Duchamp: Étant-Donnés, (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2009), 197-98; and reviewed by Lauren Grymes for Garden Design magazine.

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