The Secret Garden
Julie Daňhelová, Filip Dvořák, Lucie Králíková, Savka Marenic
29.06. – 27.08.23
The first exhibition in the new space of Entrance Gallery—after moving from the former orangery in the Břevnov Monastery—is dedicated to reflections on the romantic ideal of the secret garden as a place between reality and fiction, where anything can happen. The program of the environmentally focused gallery continues in an as yet partially converted former convenience store.
The exhibited projects by four contemporary artists thematize, from different positions, the paradoxical perception and definition of a garden. Although gardens are often portrayed in art as places of fantasy and unexpected or even magical experiences, they are in the end primarily the result of an attempt to create an area of controlled nature, which would not have come into being or existed in its resulting form without human intervention. In aesthetic theory, then, the garden as an object of aesthetic evaluation and enjoyment stands in a quite special category, balancing between the classic nature–art duality. The notion of the garden implies, in its very definition, a kind of enclosure, a boundedness. But at the same time, due to its organic nature, it can never be considered complete because it is constantly undergoing processes of growth, death, and decay. Unlike a traditional work of art, which is also a product of human intention and activity, a garden never reaches its final form. If the creator of the garden ceases maintaining and cultivating their creation, nature has a chance to fully manifest itself and return to its wild form. It is remarkable to reflect on this desire to create private islands of controlled nature in the form of gardens—a desire which people across diverse cultures have always shared—especially given that it is specifically the phenomenon of the wild garden that has inspired and continues to inspire countless literary and other works of art. The circle of interconnectedness between the natural and the human is symbolically closing.
The stories of wild and abandoned gardens, into which it is so tempting to project all sorts of romantic notions about their founders and caretakers cultivating the plants they sowed, also contain an often overlooked aspect of great sadness stemming from abandonment and loss, as in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel The Secret Garden, in which the child protagonist is orphaned and left alone in a world that is not friendly to her, nor ultimately she to it. The initial inspiration and title for the exhibition in fact come from Burnett’s book, which tells the story of a secret garden that hides much more than just beautiful and intoxicatingly fragrant flowers. In the book, the secret garden becomes a place where a lonely and bitter girl discovers friendship and gradually even the joy of living. When the protagonists of the semi-fairytale story walk through the gateway to the secret garden, it transforms them and gives them space for personal and emotional growth in harmony with the very garden growing around them.
The works of art in the exhibition also deal with stories of gardens and similar human-controlled natural environments.
Lucie Králíková has recorded her rich experiences of discovering and exploring half-forgotten gardens in various corners of Europe. Brief descriptions of reality combine with personal impressions of the places in order to form dreamlike visions, each of which could serve as the inspiration for another book in the vein of The Secret Garden. Visitors can read them in the comfort of a bed situated in the gallery window, on a white duvet and pillows stuffed with straw and hay, smelling of summer.
Julie Daňhelová’s drawings depict the fictitious character of Jester Buttonmaker being on the border between a ghost and the made-up alter ego of the artist herself, who discovered a “treasure” in the vicinity of the mountain village of Stříbrná in the form of a stockpile of mother-of-pearl, which was once used in the region to make buttons. The drawings and handwritten text make it easy to believe that in a place where the only traces remaining of the long-time inhabitants are the overgrown remnants of once fertile and cultivated gardens and the ruins of sprawling dwellings, only echoes of the area’s former life resound through the thickets today.
In addition to preparing several site-specific interventions for the exhibition that elevate the disused rooms of the former convenience store to a full-fledged gallery space, artist and architect Savka Marenić also created an original story about one Mrs. Warden. The woman, whose life was bound to a small grocery store that slowly went out of business, was for so long defined by the place she worked that she almost became part of it. The audio story, which issues from one of the gallery’s false ceilings, tells of her difficulty in leaving behind her established routines and way of life, but aided by her newfound love of gardening and tending plants, it leads to a happy ending. Fragments of the new life of Mrs. Warden who gradually transforms into a gardener, are scattered throughout the gallery in the form of colorful sewn plants and seeds, gardening gloves, and a photo album with snapshots of another secret garden.
The wooden paintings by Filip Dvořák, accompanied by miniature engravings of natural motifs, represent a selection from the author’s long-running series The Ravine. Its key component is the story of a human community in a remote natural place—a ravine where people didn’t end up entirely by choice but over time have grown to accept as their home, learning to live there in symbiosis with nature. They have thus unintentionally accepted a fundamental limitation on their lives and the lives of future generations because the longer they remain in the familiar and relatively safe environment of the ravine, the greater the stagnation they collectively fall into. The humanized nature here represents salvation and the resources needed for survival but at the same time also limitations on the further possible development of this fictitious (?) community.
The exhibition program of Entrance Gallery is continuously supported by: Magistrát hl. města Prahy, The Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and MČ Praha 6 and Gestor – The Union for the Protection of Authorship