Body and Intellect: the ethical-educative traits of landscape gardening in contemporary art, by Tunde Varga

As Dipesh Chakrabarti has pointed out (2009) the Viconian separation of nature and culture does no longer hold in an age when humanity becomes a geological agent by its very number. The probable collapse of the natural history – human history distinction (in which nature was seen only a timeless backdrop to human activity) thus requires not only a new type of historical consciousness, but also an active and ethically based nature-consciousness, for which possible samples can also be found in recent “sustainable” or “green” art projects. In these projects the natural environment, the cultural environment and the artefact differences are curiously overcome and merge into a multifaceted, multi-sensorial form of art and nature. My paper presents three different projects which represent three divergent approaches and answers to the ethical and educational stakes of the built landscape/natural surrounding unity.

All three projects can be interpreted as a reconceptualization of the 18th century concept of the picturesque, a concept which does not only draw on the intellect by its transcendental immateriality, but incorporates the sensual, bodily experience. The picturesque has two modes, one is the learned when the landscape was looked at as (or looked like) a painting, the second however (which belongs more to landscape gardening) is in which the body has a constituent role, and also in which nature is not frozen, but dynamic and changing. In de Bolla’s view landscape gardening required a new mode of look (which diverges from the gaze and the glance) the sentimental look which is a fully somatic insertion of the eye or of the subject into the visual field.

I will show that the reinterpretations of the theories of the sublime and the picturesque can serve as approaches to three recent littoral, socially engaged, multi-sensuous landscape art projects and to their ethical-educational traits. The first is a till unrealized “top down” Landscape design project, the Vabababa Garden (Újirány Group), which is a model garden for a self-sustaining educational program of a village in Hungary (Homokkő). In this model the educative and ethical roles of Landscape design is amalgamated by functionality, that is it counts on the active use and affect or experience of its visitors.

The second is a grass root organization’s garden design project within the city. A few of the relatively large patios of the apartment houses in poorer districts of the capital (Budapest) were used as the scene of a collaborative garden building design project with the active participation of artists, social activists and the inhabitants, using the garden’s potential as a public art /public place, which is now sustained by the inhabitants whereby a lot knowledge of landscapes and sustainable gardening is passed on to children through their active participation: Gang Group.

The third is also a mixed (unfortunately not long lasting) grassroot project of artist and citizens: the Hints Group initiated a form of guerrilla gardening in the inner city streets, utilizing car tyres as containers, showing possible examples for greening the cityscape.

Tunde Varga, Hungarian University of Fine Art, HU

Harvard Citation Guide: Varga, T. (2012) Body and Intellect: the ethical-educative traits of landscape gardening in contemporary art, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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