I used to have a secret garden. Even though it was technically communal (which slightly undermines the essence of secrecy) it was rarely visited by anyone and wildly overgrown. Especially in summer you could get lost between the ancient trees and unkept rosebushes and safely hide from the perils of the outside world. I occasionally invited someone around for a midnight picnic, and often spent lazy afternoons sitting on the grass with the creatures of my imagination, watching little bugs trying to climb into my tea. I thought that was what secret gardens were generally like, happy places of peaceful meditation. How horribly naive I was.
TENT in Rotterdam asked fifteen artists to think about the concept of a secret garden and make a work for their current exhibition. They interpreted the secret garden not just as a hideaway or a place of contemplation, imagination, mystery and beauty, but also a place of debauchery, derelict and danger. The secret garden is shown as a place that evokes sensuality – brilliantly depicted in the stylishly pornographic images by Schilte en Portielje – or the deserted home of a cannibalistic tribe.
The secret element of these gardens is taken very literally by Diederik Klomberg, in the work Kura Di e Mente/Garden of the Mind, 2012, which consists of plant pots, mirrors and hallucinogenic drugs. This three-dimensional installation uses light effects to unveil a hidden breeding ground for mind-expanding experiences and shows the secret garden as the kind garden you find in attics and basements, and occasionally in newspapers after a police raid. It is, obviously, the kind of secret garden you’d expect to find in Rotterdam. In the same room is a video animation by Olphaert den Otter, entitled Drawn, 2012. It reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a friend, about a book in which bacteria are seen as the species at the top of the food chain which will eventually kill and survive all other living animals (my conversations with friends are generally quite cheerful). The hand-drawn video animation shows the slow, natural changes of a desertlike piece of land. There are some remnants of human presence – skulls and bones – but generally it shows the planet after human life has gone.
Another work worth mentioning is the spectacular installation by Guiseppe Licari, called Humus, for which the roots of several medium sized trees were cut off and attached to the ceiling. The lights in the room are dimmed, and walking around the room it feels like you’re underground, like a mole making it’s way through the soil. There is something sinister and exciting about being in the underbelly of the forest, surrounded by the roots of dead trees.
These gardens are fantastical places, literally gardens of the mind. They show the dungeons of the artist’s imagination, and make you walk through their nightmares and dreams. They’re brilliant for a thoughtful meander, but they’re not great places for cups of tea.