Werken Archief
Publications on Irene Fortuyn
Pierluigi Tazzi In the beginning was the garden
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward of Eden                     genisis, 2:8

The garden and the park, at least in all cases it isn’t a natural park, are to be understood as artificial dipositions, of which the structure and articulation are geometric or fantastic in type, of terrains partly or entirely cultivated in order to achieve an aesthetic result.

In general parks and gardens contain one or more architectural structures as their extension into the environment or the landscape.

The garden also appears as one of the main iconographical motifs of carpets and tapestries. In which case a symbolic value is attached to the decorative value, a symbolic value which also appears in literature every time parks and gardens are its subject.

The idea of the garden is originally related to the idea of the superiority of man over nature. Nature, the first other-than-the-self of both mankind and of the individual subject, was to be stripped of its fearsome features and negative effects, a process which took place in an aesthetic key.

In the practical and therefore structural sense, the garden is simply the aesthetic transformation of the orchard and the vegetable garden. From this stems the choice of plants to be cultivated, the best and the most beautiful according to the aesthetic criteria of a culture and a civilization. Their distribution and design however, are in various cultures related to aesthetic, ideal and symbolic functions. And it is here that the specifically architectural nature of the garden reveals itself. Because of both these characteristics, the agricultural and the architectural, the site is of importance. The garden is always directly connected to the natural conditions of a place, even in those extreme cases where the connection is established as an opposition. On the basis of these premises we can say that the garden corresponds to three types of definition:

  • the concept of nature as beautiful and propitious in its own right;
  • the notion that the beauty and beneficence of nature can be enhanced in their manifestation by human intervention;
  • the positive endeavour of nature and the human project to find in the garden a place to meet, with neither as a source of substantial damage to the other.

At the level of symbolism, two primary models can be identified, both of which are to be found in civilizations and cultures at considerable distances in time and space. The first is the religious model. “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward of Eden; and here he put the man whom he had formed” , reads the Book of Genesis. A tree, the tree of life (a structure symbolically connecting above and below, the superior and the inferior, the lightness of the air into which it extends its branches and where the spirit of the wind blows, and the gravity of the earth into which it sinks its roots and whence it springs) and a fountain, the fons vitae (the source of the primal waters which originate all life, dispel all thirst and wash away all ordure) are the essential elements of the primitive tem-ples predating all architectural structures. Trees and fountains are equally essential components of the garden, even if in themselves, together or separately, they do not yet form a garden. But still they are what we could call its germinal elements. The other model is closely related to the first and is more cultural in a generic sense: the garden as a memory to be recovered or an image to be realised, the memory or the image of a condition of harmony between man and nature, and, at the same time, the mark of a level of civilization that prompts this memory or that proposed harmony to impose itself as the manifestation of a balance to be recovered or to be attained.

At the level of structure, the first element to be considered is established by the definition of the garden’s limits, by its enclosement, mostly by a real and proper wall which, while aiming to distinguish the garden from everything that is not garden, only marks the separation from everything that surrounds it. Unlike other enclosements, the wall that encloses the garden has a positive value: the limit marks the difference between inside and outside and always defines that what is inside as positive. The necessity of a limit immediately relates the garden to architecture, of which it is, as remarked above, either an embellishment or an extension. But the structure of the garden is already architectural in its own right, even if of a highly particular kind, since it is characterised by openness and constant positivity. And to make the matter more complicated, real architectural structures are part of the garden. In effect, it is an architectural container of architectural structures which mostly have been deliberately designed for it and which, on a par and in conjunc-
tion with the vegetation, define its specific identity.

The garden differs from architecture by virtue of its ultimate uselessness, like an extravagance or a luxury. It serves no practical purpose. It doesn’t produce. And although utilitarian or productive activities can take place in the garden, they have nothing to do with its essence. The garden is a construction and therefore a product, but an exquisitely unproductive product.

Since the Enlightenment, the garden’s inherent uselessness, its status as a highly civilized luxury, acquired a social and pedagogical function. The original model was inverted: it no longer dealt with cultivating nature by way of human intervention but of educating the human being to appreciate the values presumedly inherent to nature (Jean-Jacques Rousseau), thus diverting the human being from the utilitarian values that produce the non-garden. The non-garden is now no longer nature, but the world of the city and of production. This world was not perceived as a hostile or inimical entity in the same way as nature was originally experienced, but as a degrad- ing condition confronting the true essence of mankind.

This inversion remained unchanged up until the present. While nature was once the enemy to be tamed by the human project, now, in its tamed and educated form of the garden, it became the refuge in which to recover from the disasters and discomforts - both social and psychological - provoked by the human project itself, by the whole of human civilization, from which we have to defend ourselves just as originally we had to seek safety from the aggression of nature by withdrawing into that very same garden.

What remained unchanged is the fact that the garden is still the other world, other than the world in which the individual and the community lead their actual existence. An “other world” which is always ideal. Even if this ideal manifests itself in the concrete forms which are materially present in the garden, it is never fulfilled. As the allegory of a world lost or ready to be regained, the garden is and always remains an island that is not there.
In this respect it has something to do with art, or at least with a specific conception of art. This is why the garden in the course of time has
come to be associated with paradise, with dream, with Utopia.

The garden is the nearest imitation to all imitations, we witness the perfectly visual and unreachable. It is man watching, not knowing, no paradises, no grottos, follys or paths, no direction and certainly no indication. All is perfect recognition, the garden imitating the garden, the garden where nobody walks, but observes.

The Twentyfour Men in White,
Maison de la Culture,
Saint-Etienne, 1988, p. 24

It also has something to do with the art of Fortuyn/O’Brien. Or perhaps it is better to say that Fortuyn/O’Brien has something to do with the garden. Or again, that the garden is a reference, figure and place in Fortuyn/ O’Brien’s art.

Fortuyn/O’Brien’s work is quite clearly an artificial disposition, of which the structure and articulation are geometric or fantastic in type (I think the terms can apply) of objects and spaces (many more spaces than objects in recent years) in order to achieve an aesthetic effect. Each of Fortuyn/O’Brien’s works is also concerned with architecture and design: it makes use of the modes of these forms of expression and construction while in no way identifying with them, and indeed while seeing them, directly or indirectly, as a pole of opposition.

Fortuyn/O’Brien appeared on the scene at the same time as artists like Jan Vercruysse and Jean-Marc Bustamante, who addressed similar issues. This situation was typical of the art of the 1980s, when the opposition between art and architecture grew quite strident. The battle receded at the end of the decade, with neither losers nor winners. The artists’ aspiration to construct an exemplary if not exclusive model of civilization - of civilization more than of culture - remained unrealized. The world pursued its own course and it isn’t the one the artists projected. In the same way as architecture reached the end of its ideal at the moment when modernism went into the crisis that permitted the appearance of post-modernist hybridization.

The quality of each of the works of Fortuyn/O’Brien, no less than of the whole of the work and its overall evolution, derives from the convergence of two canons of form: decoration and imitation. Both of these canons have a long and ample artistic tradition, in art, and not only that of the West, as well as in the so-called applied arts and crafts.

The use of decoration and the decorative premise places the work of Fortuyn/O’Brien within the project of Modernism. The moment that defined the concept of style also turned decoration into one of its constitutive elements: the distinction between Gothic and Renaissance, even if codified a posteriori, lies in some ways at the origin of that definition, but the concept of style found its greatest development and precision in the eighteenth century.

And it has since remained unchanged, up until the time in which we ourselves witnessed its deflagration: a deflagration that reduces the scope of its meaning and in some ways constitutes its end. The metamorphosis of style into fashion is its most strident consequence.

The work of Fortuyn/O’Brien takes account of this deflagration and places itself slightly previous to this metamorphosis. (Which was chosen as the term of reference by the next generation, starting with the variegated phenomenon of “Young British Art” and as well with the new positive attitude which is, in a far less clamorous way, articulated today: I am thinking of artists like Vanessa Beecroft, Tobias Rehberger, Wolfgang Tillmans and Sharon Lockhart).

Imitation is confronted by Fortuyn/O’Brien in all of its complexity, covering the vast spectrum that includes both mimesis and kitsch. Mimesis is the fundamental basis of all forms of Western expression, from poetry and literature to art. But Fortuyn/O’Brien is aware of the transformation of this concept in the tradition that extends from Aristotle to Lessing, and to its rupture caused by German Romantics like Fichte and Novalis. Kitsch, on the other hand, is the ever present mode of expression which has constantly undermined the Modernist ideology.

Fortuyn/O’Brien makes use of imitation as an instrument of a mise-en-distance, which is considered as inherent to the practice and specificity of art, and of identification and this divergence forms its very foundation. A divergence that separates both art and language from things, a distance tinged with the colours of irony and melancholy. Irony and melancholy meet in the work of Fortuyn/O’Brien and each, in turn, prevails upon the other, according to periods and circumstances which, just as in life, continually come and go, always responding to one another, even if neither can ever establish an absolute victory, nor a clear and definitive separation.

When they converge and meet in a single point (a work, or only a title, or a single component of a work) paradox is the effect, which sublimates both in a moment of rapt folly. And this is even more the case since Fortuyn/O’Brien always combines the distance of art with a desire for proximity, the desire to be close to things, to things marked by passions and desires (Marcel Proust), the passions and desires of others that the artist aims to recognize and feel, not with the intent of appropriation but caused by a profound sympathy. And this sympathy is also the meeting place of irony (the distance between myself and what I look at allows me this attitude) and melancholy (the same distance inexorably separates me from the things I want to be close to).

Decoration and imitation thus become the terms and tools of a delicate relationship,
and at the same time they confirm the artist’s self-awareness.
A fabric printed with flowers is not a meadow; perhaps it is not even a desire for a meadow: House and Garden; undergrowth, 1996.
A dry bough soaked in latex is not a plant: Growth, 1999.
A bronze trunk is not a tree, nor is a group of such trunks a forest: Collection Spring 1997, 1997.
A terracotta dog is not a dog: Cave Canem, 1993.
What is not there is not a presence: Reserve, 1993.
Of the jasmine and the lavender, of the magnolia and the rose, my skin bears only the fragrance, which soon evaporates: The Bathroom Piece, 1999.
Of open spaces, the memory: Cityscapes, 1999.
A puppet is not our small redemptive hero, and I am frightened by its silence: Hmmm, 1997.
The interior is not the exterior. Closed spaces are not open spaces: above all Rear View, 1999.
The geraniums continued to die.
A reflection is not what it reflects: Obsolete Views, 1999.
But the following things are evoked by puzzles (Neighbours, 1996):
the kitchen with the cat,
the child’s room,
the desk with (my/his) personal things,
the computer in front of an open French window,
a girl absorbed in reading in the protective half-shadow of a café,
a man who looks out from a large window,
chairs turned upside-down on tables after closing hours.
And in the background of each image the Museum imposes its particular presence:
an inevitable memento.

We create nothing, express nothing; we only discover or uncover what is already there.

Gary Goldschneider, The Secret Language of Birthdays,
Meditation for March 20, Irene Droogleever Fortuyn’s birthday.

Fortuyn/O’Brien’s attitude, like that of the other artists of the same generation, is distinctly positive. (This is primarily a cultural generation rather than one of age and includes others as well as the two artists already mentioned above as Fortuyn/O’Brien’s companions at the start of the road; here it’s worthwhile to mention at least one other Dutch artist: Niek Kemps.) If this attitude is in any way critical, as in fact it is, that criticism is first of all implicit. Everything negative lies upstream from the work. Negation lies not in the gaze - un regard toujours amoureux, the limpid and steady gaze of the artist - but in the conditions that history and tradition have imposed on the things they observe.

The Utopian project of modern architecture and historical design (from William Morris to the Bauhaus, to the much more pervasive project which came into being in Europe, the United States, and Japan in the period following the Second World War, that would continue until the crisis of post-modernism, and which still cannot be declared extinct) tends to root itself in a positive vision, of which the ethical bias is sustained by the need for economic production, on the premise of a progressive and expanding economy. But at the very same time this positive impulse turns a programmatically blind eye to the “ugliness” of the world: to the ways in which civilization has produced this “ugliness.” Architecture and design place themselves beyond, and, in their own way, above the conditions in which reality takes place. They envision a “superior” aesthetics that tends to impose itself upon and correct an “inferior” reality. In this respect, architecture and design are animated by a pedagogic spirit, driven from above, that assigns itself the task -primarily ethical and political, and only subsequently aesthetic - of shaping social taste, the modalities of the environmental context, and the behaviour patterns of the community and of the individual.

Modern art, in the assertion of its right to self-determination, ignores this distinction between “superior” and “inferior” and assumes its position at a zero point where individual reactions and effects/affects are of more importance than any global project, as determined by a myth, a faith or an ideology, and is likewise of greater weight than the social demands induced by the dominant culture of any given epoch. Art privileges the subject rather than a collective will.

This is the vantage point assumed by the work of Fortuyn/O’Brien, as it takes off in various directions. One is the direction of the habitat. The habitat as the place where life takes place, the house that houses life.

That place where things arrange themselves in a “happy” (felix) order, but as well where we place those things (where we “set” them in the sense that a gardener would use that word) which we have encountered along our path in the course of the voyage of existence and which hold a certain positive meaning: those things which articulate Baudelaire’s triad, in Invitation au voyage, of “Luxe, calme et volupté” as then passed on by Matisse toward a venturesome landing on the shores of the present.

Another is the recognition of nature as the genesis of form: a recognition achieved through the mechanisms of memory (the atavistic memory of the species, the collective memory of the culture of the society to which one belongs, and the personal memory of individual experience) and by way of the various techniques which have come into existence in the course of history for the construction and reproduction of images. Techniques which now present themselves as instruments not only of art, but also of all the other modes of representation (sculpture,
photography, assemblage).

The second direction turns toward the instruments of art, both technical (to which we have already given consideration) and procedural, as the means of a more direct and “autonomous” relationship with the world and one’s own being in the world. (Relationships are “heteronymous” when they hinge on any approach that derives its structure from an ideological or practical discipline that’s adopted a priori, before the act of construction, and of which the product of the act of construction is an example, illustration or demonstration.) This direction is obviously the one that is most closely related to the domain of art and it roots the work of Fortuyn/O’Brien in this specific context. But it is only one of its directions, since the work also attempts to break out of the confinement to a single discipline. All art of the twentieth century has searched for this opening even though this is opposed by the very same system, of which it is a part and which has as its purpose to protect and safeguard art.

This leads to a final direction, which reflects upon the step beyond the isolation of a discipline and a system and which moves toward a beyond, an otherwhere, a place which can only be defined by the air that blows from and within it. We are not beyond the threshold. We are standing in between. In the materialized hypothesis of a domain as ephemeral as happy. We have arrived at a way station of our voyage, at a place that is part of two worlds, the one we occupy and the one we strive for, and which bears traces of both: a place where memories and reflections intertwine and fade-out. In the house by the sea, in the glass house, in the winter garden, in the playroom, and in the gardens at the end of time and life: Life as it
is lived, desired, imagined and reflected upon.

[She possessed a happy intelligence, the grace of a stripling. No anxiety or pain, no matter how profound, could touch her. Like the skies above that flat land of which the light always remains intact and charged with its own clarity, no matter how imposing the masses of clouds that move across it.]

Capalle-Amsterdam-Capalle, summer 1999