Oct 26, 2012

Another kind of OM

For those who have worked on The High Line,
is their mantra.

Lisa Switkin, Associate Partner and Managing Director of Field Operations, gave us her take on The High Line at New York Botanical Garden on Tuesday, October 23.

As I listened to Lisa,  I understood why Field Operations was chosen for the project.
"Our first concern was to find a way to keep the magic." 

Just walk along The High Line and its obvious that Field Operations carefully calculated the linear corridor of the space, the intimacy of the narrow width of the pathway, the history of the place as a freight line through the city, the secret garden quality of the space during the 1970's and 1980's and the necessity of keeping a balance between preservation and transformation.

What became the most iconic symbol of The High Line is the part of The High Line that does not exist anymore.  It is The High Line that Joel Sternfeld made famous in his photographs: wild meadow flowing through the backs of buildings in Chelsea.

"Everything on The High Line is opportunistic.  Given aspects of the rail line that could not be changed (height and direction), we used that to our advantage in the hardscape and planting areas.  "
Lisa Switkin

"Perhaps walking is best imagined as an 'indicator species,' to use an ecologist's term.  An indicator species signifies the health of an ecosystem, and its endangerment or diminishment can be an early warning sign of systemic trouble.  Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedom and pleasures:  free time, free and alluring space and unhindered bodies."  Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

The High Line is a kind of OM.

Oct 23, 2012

We All Have

The Memory of LAND
"When a landscape architect is entrusted with a piece of land, 
regardless of its size...his or her essential obligation is 
to recognize the site's ideal image by listening to its 'voice." 

New York Botanical Garden
Landscape Design Series

3 projects

Nagasaki Seaside Park
Shiba Satsuma Street

Nagaoka Peace Forest
Ryoko Uemyama's finished her lecture.  I left with friends. On the way out,  my friend, L said "Uemyama's talk is especially relevant to you ..."after all you work in a public park".
"Yes, but we have AMNESIA".

Amnesia could be the furthest thing from Uemyama's work.  For her the land is filled with layers that hold a thousand memories.  She uncovers these layers by researching the  history of the place and that becomes the starting point of  her landscape architecture.  For example in Siba Street, Uemyama researched 100 colors of gray used in the Edo Period and choose a few of these tones for the park.

"We know the way to the eternal world, when we use the memory" Uemyama

I couldn't get L's comment out of my head. What a difference the landscape of my park would have been, if someone had considered the history of the park and transformed that history to a landscape based on the memories of its former uses and peoples.  It is a park that was originally called Minnehanonck by the Indians and received its current name from its owner, Jonathan Randal after the American Revolutionary War.  The island was used for a potter's field, an almhouse, a reformatory and a hospital. If the layers of history of the island had been considered, I wonder what the current topology of the island would look like.   Uemyama showed us how memory can be a metaphor for design. 

"a garden is not more than 
the character of the gardener." 
Edo Period

Oct 22, 2012

Pure Immanence

"A life contains only virtuals.  
It is made up of virtu-alities, events, singularities.  
What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality, 
but something that enters into a process of actualization 
by following the plane that gives it its own reality."

Pure Immanence
Essays on A Life
Gilles Deleuze

Saturday, October 20, 2012
Marron Atrium, Second Floor

The Show Must Go On

I sit on the floor.
There are no chairs.
The performance is suppose to begin at 3pm
It's now 3:15 pm and nothing.
Members of the audience get up, walk to the front of the room,

line up and stare at the me.
The music starts.  It's the Beatles.
The "dancers" begin to move.

But are they dancers?
In some cases, it is easy to tell by their body type; 
in other cases I am not sure.  
Again stillness.  
The music begins again; 
This time Private Dancer sung by Tina Turner.  
The dancers begin to move to the music
Each doing their own thing.  
but aware of each other.  
Again silence.  
The DJ plays Ballerina Girl by Lionel Richie.  
The men step out and 
the women perform their individual idea of ballet steps.  
The performers leave.
The DJ steps into the performance space.
He dances.
He leaves.
Everyone comes back to the performance space.
The Macarena plays.

All performers dance to it.
The performers leave the space and come back.
Each person has an iPod and headphones.
Some performers occasionally sing part of the song they are listening to.
Some move to the music they are listening to on their iPod.

Laughter in the audience.
The performers leave.

This was the first week of a three-week program of dance performances by contemporary choreographers at MoMA.  Afterwards,  choreographers, Jerome Bel and Steve Paxton (performance took place on Wed), Sabine Breitwieser, Chief Curator, Dept. of Media and Performance Art and Ralph Lemon, guest curator and choreographer talked about the two dances.

Randomness, improvisation, humor, irony were all part of this performance.  

Jerome Bel "You work on a dance for maybe 5 or 6 years.  And when you perform it in a space like this, the audience can come and go, play with their iphones, tweat, whisper, rock their babies, watch from the sidelines and the floors above.  There are no expectations.  I don't know how to come to terms with that".

"He went on "Dance is activated by the performer.  Even though a dance like the Macarena is ready-made, each performer does it differently".  

It didn't matter.  But nobody left.  Whether it was the music that made it accessible or comfortable or the idea that you didn't know what would happen and you wanted to find out; the performance was transfixing.  There is something similar in the way meadows develop:  choreographed and yet unchoreographed.  They evolve depending on the conditions.  I only wish a meadow could be as engaging as this performance.

Oct 21, 2012

Masters of Horticulture

Plant Conference
October 19, 2012

Noel Kingsbury
Christine Ten Eyck
Ken Smith
Kelly Norris

Hope and Change was Obama's campaign slogan 4 years ago.  I don't know what it is this year, but the horticulturists and landscape architects at the Perennial Plant Conference took a page from his playbook. 

Noel Kingsbury, author of more books than you can count, and friend of all "cool" garden designers, talked about making the garden mimic nature in its diversity and complexity.  No more drifts, no more design; instead high density, intermingling, habitats and communities.
When you garden in Texas and Arizona as Christine Ten Eyck does, it's the memory of water that informs your work.  The arroyo is a metaphor for all of her designs.  Although interesting to listen to, many of us could not figure out what any of this had to do with a perennial plant conference in the Northeastern US.

"Chic Plants for Hip Gardeners" was the title of Kelly Norris's rant.  He was on a mission to put passion back into the horticultural world.  He recently returned from the GWA conference in Arizona. Appalled by the suggestion that in order to attract younger gardeners, we need to dumb down gardening Norris argued, it's all about creating a fashionable plant palette: Sanguinaria canadensis 'Muliplex', Corydalis nobilis, Tellima grandiflora, Eucomis 'Kilmanjaro' and Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri.  

For me the star of the line-up was Ken Smith, landscape architect.  He gardens in urban spaces with conditions antithetical to making gardens:  shade, wind, lack of soil, weight load requirements, steam and water utilities under the ground.  People hire him to solve these problems and still create something they can call a GARDEN. 

A private terrace with limited weight loads and a requirement that all the features on the terrace be movable on a periodic basis, so that window washing operations can take place would send most designers running.  Smith developed a program that appealed to the owners interest in Japanese gardens, mimicking their love of scholar rocks and raked sand.  This is a lesson in how to market an idea.
Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.
Stuck for two hours at the Lincoln Tunnel, I had plenty of time to reflect.  Designing gardens allows me the illusion that I can control the landscape, but lately I am all for seeing what happens when I relinquish some of that control.

Oct 17, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

"A Rich Spot of Earth"
Thomas Jefferson;s Revolutionary Garden
at Monticello

1,000-foot long garden terrace, 80 ft.wide
Two-acre garden divided into twenty-four squares
12-ft tall "paling" fence three quarters of a mile long
170 varieties of fruit
400 trees in the orchard

Peter J. Hatch
NYBG/ Sothebys - October 16, 2012

During this election season, I feel my pursuit of happiness might be endangered.  Thomas Jefferson had no such worries.  After he penned the inalienable rights, he moved on to Tennis-Ball Lettuce, Marrowfat Peas and Breast of Venus Peach.

Peter Hatch, Retired Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, gave gardeners and socialites alike, a talk that rested on Jefferson's belief that "the failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another."    As a gardener, I am well acquainted with false steps and less so with achievement.  After spending 35 years at Monticello, Peter Hatch had plenty to say about both.

From the age of 67-82, Jefferson devoted himself to growing vegetables.  His was a garden of retirement.  "But though an old man, I am but a young gardener".  Hatch categorized Jefferson's garden as particularly American in scope and scale.  It was BIG and EXPERIMENTAL. Unlike the potagers of Europe, Jefferson took chances. He planted vegetables that were unknown and untried in Virginia.  Hatch described his table as the  "new American cuisine" and Jefferson as the "first foodie".

Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826.  What date could be more fitting for the author of the Declaration of Independence?  During the talk, Eunyoung Sebazco, Horticulture Manager of Randall's Island, whispered in my ear.  "Let's make a Thomas Jefferson Vegetable Garden."  "Ok" I said,  "one thing let's not make it a 1,000 ft. long".

Oct 11, 2012


Manipulated Photography
Before Photoshop

Met Museum
October 11, 2012 - January 27, 2013

"Anything you can do,
I can do better
I can do anything
Better than you

"Anything You Can Do...I can do better"  was the song that came into my head,  as I walked around Faking It. There are over 200 photographs in the exhibition, created prior to 1990. The cut off year 1990 relates to the year  Adobe Photoshop 1.0 was distributed.  Whether adding clouds, removing mountains, turning black and white into color or transforming a single portrait into a group shot, these photographs enhance, change or distort reality.
The exhibition is demanding.  I prefer to look not read when I go to a show, but this is one case where the text adds to the enjoyment and understanding of the visual.  The text explains the technique used to create the illusion.  A man seemingly flies out of a window, but the reality is a group of individuals are waiting under the window to catch him.  The show is full of these "before"and "after".
A viewer of this photograph, exclaimed, "How did you ever get all these individuals together?"  We know better.  I am a guilt-free user of Photoshop.  I tread  lightly with the "truth".   These photographers threw down the gauntlet and Photoshop answered.  

The camera never lies was always fiction. I accept not knowing whether the sky is really that blue, a face is devoid of wrinkles, a garden so green.  It's the new normal, as desirable as the new iPhone.


Oct 5, 2012

The Art of Survival

Kongjan Yu

Tu-ren is two characters in Chinese.
Tu means dirt, earth, the land.
Ren means people, the man, human being.
"Once these two characters come together, it actually means earth man,
which also expresses my understanding about land and people".

NYBG Winter Landscape Series
Asia Society
October 2, 2012

Don't bite the hand that feeds you is supposedly good advice.  Kongjan Yu did not take this advice. 

He slammed the making of ornamental gardens and our nostalgia for Chinese landscapes represented in the brush paintings of former centuries.  It was the New York Botanical Garden that brought him to New York to speak and yet everything he had to say was a contradiction of the kind of gardens a botanical garden makes and maintains. 

Yu equated the ancient practice of foot binding (little feet)  as a metaphor for the unproductive landscapes that are a result of Chinese urbanization.  50% of the Chinese population live in cities, surrounded by pollution, drought, flooding and habitat loss; Yu is determined to change all that by creating a new aesthetic.

His practice is based in the rural landscape of his childhood.  Farmers have wisdom.  How the land was managed for centuries, teaches Yu how to use some of those practices, combined with current green infrastructure techniques, to clean water and manage storm water run-off.

His landscapes are messy.  They are not ornamental.  They are DESIGNED to be performative.  And this is where the beauty comes in.  These urban parks are full of native grasses, woodlands, rice paddies and native flowering plants that increase biodiversity. 
Getting the public to accept these "messy" landscapes is a question that I have struggled with, but Yu has found the solution:  create a formal structure for people to experience the landscape.  Paths through the plantings,  skyways above the plantings, pavilions ot hang out in, sculpture to magnify the landscape... these parks, day or night, create active interaction with the landscape.  Almost all of these massive public spaces use a filtration system or terrace system in which plants act as a sponge to clean and absorb water.  The landscape becomes a living machine.  It's what Yu called landscape acupuncture.

Kongjian Yu left us with the following words, "Help nature to recover and let nature do the work."  I can live with that.