Monday, 29 October 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Salcedo's Crack and Solomon de Caus


Long conversations at the weekend about the crack in Tate Modern.

Me (to Tate employee): "Excuse me, can you tell me anything about how this was made?"

Tate employee: "Oh no, I'm sorry, I don’t know, because the artist, you see, wants the work to be considered in terms of the message, rather than people thinking about how she actually constructed it."

Me, thinking: well that hasn't worked then. There are about 26 people in here at the moment and they are all, as far as I can work out by conscientious eavesdropping, talking about how she made it. (Apart from the three Italian girls trying to take a photo of themselves actually standing in it. Not sure they have any other ambition but trying to fit all their legs into the crack at once.)

Later, I recount the visit to my mum.

My mum: "Ha ha! That’s true actually. I've read about four articles in the paper about that crack, and none of them were anything about the meaning of it. Actually they were all by builders, speculating on how she might have done it. Apparently it's to do with ****** and ****
************. "(censored for your own good - see below)

So whatever it means, however it was made, absolutely nobody is talking about how this crack really sums up for them the big chasm between white and non-white peoples.

It seems to me that the crack really doesn’t speak as loudly on the subject of race as its creator would have wished. But it does seem to be talking with voice raised when you think about it in relation to another show on at Tate Modern at the moment – The World as a Stage.

Jessica Morgan and Catherine Wood have created an exhibition about theatricality in modern art. Which is how we (eventually) get to gardens, because theatricality is such an important aspect of garden design. Think of the gasp of breath you are meant to draw when, after walking through a wonderful garden, you finally see a stupendous view of three counties / a thousand acres / distant hills.

The Tate crack takes theatricality one step further because it amazes and foxes us. Like a magic trick, it makes us wonder how on earth the effect was achieved.

Me to Tate employee: "That's really annoying you can't tell us."

A passing stranger: "The only possible explanation is... magic?"

Certainly, whatever the professed ambitions of Doris Salcado, she is behaving like a true member of the Magic Circle, constructing her crack behind secret hoardings for some six weeks before her "dun-da-nah!" moment.

Gardens used to have this element sewn up in the Baroque period – Solomon de Caus
was famous for his sculptures that suddenly spat out water. He once
invented a water-powered merry-go-round that turned out to the sound of an
invisible pipe organ. And his trompe l'oeil was said to be so good it
actually fooled birds. 

I would love gardens to have this kind of quality again - the kind that
makes people stop and wonder how on earth it was done. We only have a
little of that sense of foxedness left in gardening; one area it
remains in is mazes. (Mazes are still something which fascinate people
– signs to the Maize Maze proliferated across Sussex this summer, I

We enjoy being played with, as long as it's not too sinister. I don’t go into a maze with a map. I don't necessarily want the illusion explained. And after some reflection, I’m glad I don’t know exactly how the crack was made.

(PS if you absolutely insist on disobeying Doris, read on:,,2187568,00.html)

Friday, 26 October 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Just like in St Mary Mead…

David Aaronovitch in the Times yesterday had a wonderfully Agatha Christie-ish story. Writing about Dr David Kelly’s mysterious death, he brought up the 1984 murder of Hilda Murrell, an “elderly rose grower” from Shrewsbury, who was taken from her home and was later found dead in a little copse nearby. Hilda Murrell

was an elderly rose enthusiast, yes. But the story’s a bit more intriguing than that.

As Aaronovitch pointed out, Miss Murrell was also a tireless
anti-nuclear campaigner. (She also may or may not have been in
possession of documents about the sinking of the Belgrano, left
at her house by her nephew who was in Naval Intelligence at the time of
the Falklands War. Which is where the Kelly parallels come in.)
It made me remember all those moments when Miss Marple drifts off into
a little reverie about how  a particularly gruesome murder puts her in
mind of the baker’s daughter back in little St Mary Mead.

Miss Marple works as a character because we recognise the essential
truth in her favourite saying: “Human nature is pretty much the same
everywhere.” Miss Marple was pretty keen on gardeners. According to
Agatha Christie’s best-loved creation, she very much admired Briggs,
the head gardener up at St Mary Mead’s Old Hall, who had an “uncanny
ability” to sense when the undergardeners were slacking off. It reminds
me of a real-life Miss Marple, Mavis Batey, who is one of Britain’s most important amateur experts on garden history. 

It wasn’t until she turned up in a documentary about the programme
to break the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, though, that I realised her
steely mind had been put to ferocious use in World War Two. And yet you
would never know any of this, seeing her gentle grey-haired head at a
historical gardens meeting.

Old ladies can appear to be sweet little gardening enthusiasts, but
don’t imagine that means they won’t be sharp as a button. Elderly rose
growers may be hardened political campaigners too. Even Miss Marple,
who scarcely ever leaves the village, sees all kinds of things over the
hedge while she’s doing a little pruning. There’s just one lesson here.
Never underestimate a gardener.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Zaha Hadid – Does she do gardens?

By Emma Townshend

05_zaha_hadid_maxxi_photographer_he To Zaha Hadid at the Design Museum at the weekend. I feel like a bit of a philistine saying this but I had no idea about her work before going, except for one image of the firestation she designed in Germany. This is partly because, as the exhibition points out, for a long time virtually nothing she designed got built. (Some visitors may remark, thank goodness. Not me though.)


My brain grappled with what she’s trying to do, and I can almost see myself going back for another visit once I’ve processed it all. She’s been called a “visionary architect” and you can see why – her buildings look like Russian constructivist paintings perched on dramatic hilltops. I guess it helps that she’s been commissioned for some of the world’s most futuristic looking sites – waterfronts in the Emirates, shopping centres for Kazakhstan, and the flattened top of a vast mountain in Hong Kong.


What do we mean by a “visionary” designer, though? I think it means: someone who can imagine new things, which are nothing like anything we’ve got now.


And immediately I see it in that way, I begin to like the idea. Could we get a bit of that for gardening?

Oudolf The
nearest we have to a recent “visionary” is probably Piet Oudolf, who
completely re-imagined the herbaceous border. So is gardening
necessarily a rather conservative discipline, just because it tends to
interest slightly (cough cough) older people?

through Katie Campbell’s book Icons of Twentieth Century Landscape Design  for
about the 19th time this year, I don’t think this can be true.
Visionary landscapes were created all throughout the 20th century,
if her book is to be believed (and I think we can, there are photos and
everything). Thomas Church’s California style, Burle Marx’s
post-colonial Brazilian planting, Gaudi’s Parc Guell. Even Robert
Irwin’s deranged Getty Garden.

Why do we have to wait so long, as gardeners, for someone to think up something so completely new?

(MAXXI: Centre of Contemporary Arts, Rome, Italy, Zaha Hadid Architects, for completion 2008, Photographer: Helene Binet)