Garden – the word stems from old forms meaning tracery or wire netting and is connected with trellis and belt, even with the Russian gorod equalling castle. For that reason, the German speakers correctly translated Novgorod with Nauvgard. In a wider field, garden, figuratively, means that which is enclosed, preserved, up to the courtyard. As a result, it is thoroughly designed, ordered, bred, cut out to the extreme by humans, taken out of nature in isolation, its own system cut off from the rest of nature, a central place of and refuge for breeding like the shed, something that provided the matter for weed. Weed is that which got through the isolative engirdling, the screening, thereby arriving at its impertinent place.
On the one hand, the allotments then looked like living rooms, brushed, ironed, swept and hovered, raked and washed. On the other hand, it could, much earlier than that, already come to the fortifying immuring in the case of the city garden, namely since ancient times when city gardens had to be protected not only against the rest of nature but also against other humans. My garden is my castle! Just think of the many gardens in stony Venice, the visitor despite the public streets he uses, doesn’t get out of it. But then, he doesn’t need to, having so many views out to the water of the lagoon. Gardens, then, since the earliest days seen as the left over of nature, completely designed by humans. This is what Reiner Matysik’s early works corresponded to, designing a world of plants from the imagination, including an accompanying fragmentary classification ironically orientated along Linné. The accompanying orientation along Linné is, however, one of the reasons why Matysik’s plant-inventing imagination is mostly directed towards the sexual organs, the flowers, to which Carl von Linné had fitted his classification.
The other reason can be found in a dream, told by Matysik himself, about the delimited communication between humans and the world of plants. There is a lot of talk about such kinds of communication nowadays. Man starts to speak with plants, which is meant to help them, plants and floral landscapes as images are used in psychotherapy, which helps human beings. But this is about a hermeneutic type of communication, a certain kind of understanding (a book by Ingrid Greisenegger containing some of this matter will be published soon: Wieviel Garten braucht der Mensch? Wien 2003). Matysik, however, means more than this: an erotic intercourse up to reproduction mixing humans and plants in a qualitative transformation. This has to be reached immediately, metaphorically – or: artistically –, even if directly impossible in reality and possible only symbolically, if we leave the science fiction type of genetic technology aside, to which it might appear as an objectively real possibility.
There has been an old tradition of fantastical transformations of the appearances of plants and animals from Rococo up to Mannerism, back to Romance forms, back to the monsters of ancient times, back to the whole history of ornament. Especially for the Mannerist tradition, what appeared were terms of interpretation, for example referring to Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel: the montage plant and the montage animal, pointing at the fact that they are not completely new inventions of the imagination but transformations, transformative compositions, or transformative isolations, enlargements or reductions of a given world. And this can also be seen in Matysik’s new world of plants. He, however, doesn’t really mean the fantasy aspect of the plants’ new appearances, only perhaps in their interpretative effect of symbolism, but rather the communicative intercourse with them by way of performance. But wherever this hints at a sexual communication up to reproduction, it has to include a symbolical meaning.
One might wonder why Matysik so obviously felt the necessity for including a theory of genetic technology into his artistic representation which seems to be calling for a meaning of these technological horizons beyond the dangers here ignored. Since such a theory cannot be got at by way of his comparatively crude artistic phenomenal world, he doesn’t touch upon it, doesn’t take any responsibility from the point of view of his work. What I mean, beyond the microscopic level, is the nanosphere of a manipulation of the genetic programmes inherent in the desoxyribonucleic acid itself, including the dangers of the production of new microscopic germs and the production of programmes of deformed humans, in contrast to which the world of contergan deformities would only be the forecourt of hell. And if you think of the realisation with regard to the finished Utopian phenomenality of what is desirable, as Matysik has formulated it representationally, then all the latest developments of genetic technology move within the realm of science fiction. The debate on the new human phenotype would be absurd anyway. Only in totalitarian systems could the arbitrary decision be taken to make use of genetic engineering in the most evil horizon of something that is hopefully, hopefully on the other side of this world.
But this has nothing to do with what one can see and experience through Matysik’s artistic representations. Only his texts might touch on it questionably. Their theoretical basis, however, is still comprehensible for me in the sense that it makes claims against an immediate and complete damnation of genetic research which, in any case, could be shielded from the dangers and insolubility of the absurdities and from the dangers of hurriedly accelerated applications of genetic engineering. Matysik’s enterprise could indeed be understood artistically in a negative Utopian sense, as has happened with the artistic designs against pollution of the Haus-Rucker group that were technologically as unrealisable. This group was totally ambivalent, too, as I know from one of their members, Klaus Pinter. On the one hand, there was a rejection of pollution, on the other a fascination for the technological possibilities of prevailing against pollution in a substitute world of isolation wards – total gardens.
However, in the case of Matysik’s artistic representation, a spin has to be added from the uncanny abyss between his fantasies and the spiral thinking of gene technology, in the sense that they introduce into Matysik’s fantasies a streak of the uncanny crossing the abyss or undermining it. The negative Utopian only develops by way of a double turn. With Haus-Rucker, you could still swallow the fascination unnoticed; with Matysik you have to realise its power of provocation. Otherwise, everything would be hunky dory, even genetic engineering would find its artistic adulation without problem, leaving out its problematic aspects. But then, the turn in its duplication might be much more useful in introducing a position of alarm into what seems a fascination we all share with regard to the scientific progress of genetics. Let’s share it a bit further, up to the state of vomiting, this fascination.
Matysik, however, needs the recourse to genetic engineering for another aspect in order to create the assumed meaning of his work. He is concerned, in the name of communication, in the name of its unlimited distribution, with the opposite of individualism. Gene technology in its horizon as unlimited exchangeability and montageability of programmes of inheritance would be the general elimination of individualistic individuality. Individuality would only be an element of montage.
On a first level, we could still follow the opposite to individualism – if the individualism of the late Euro-American type is concerned, which is codified in character and destiny from the cradle to the grave. Each individualist, then, is someone who is, as it were, codified from the cradle to the grave, a victim of his tenacious and lasting self-determination which is never to disappoint; self-control, self-restraint, self-discipline, which, stoically expressed, have led to the rough skin of a column.
This was something the Christian hope had already worked against two thousand years ago: “And behold, I will renew everything!” But the solution of renewal as a natural right to opportunities (character always has to be real) does not mean the dissolution of individualism. The dissolution of individualism would always be a relapse or set back into mere nature. This has been shown to us in an anti-Utopian way by the totalitarian systems of the 20th century with their cult of the New Man. They made it obvious that de-individualisers are always part of the relapse or set back into mere nature, never giving away their individualist individuality but instead making the many others cogs in their machine – be it in the ideology of a racist technology of breeding, or in the more, if only deceitfully so, Utopian ideology of a didactic technology working, too, with elements of the rather different depth psychology used for brainwashing.
Thus, one has to make an effort for an individualism beyond the post-existentialist complaints about the loss of individuality and identity which have been heard since the 1970s. My objection to this has always been that, in contrast, we are still suffering from too many identities. For an individualism of changeability, of transformation, of educability, one can learn a lot from those who have been wrongly accused by a despairing post-existentialism of the destruction of the subject, of identity, of individuality, of character. Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Michel Foucault did indeed not only dissolve individuality and by way of it individualism, they also situated them and created the theory of the relativity of individualism in the right sense of relativity and situation. Its meaning, as it were, is that the individual “doesn’t turn grey with every puddle which it looks at” – as Ernst Bloch remarked in criticism of the theory of environment (phrase by Ernst Bloch). Individuality remains a changeable countermove within the situation; determined by it, owning it in its determination and determining it in the future.
It is in these ways that I understand Matysik, not in the ways of communication as an absolute merger, since this would be the relapse into mere nature as automatism without oppositionality. Or else, it would have not come to the long, extended strip of images which creates the main part of this book, taken from a video piece. A mixture of representational fragments of landscape, plants, stones, animals, interspersed with fantasy flowers, fantasy fragments of something; sometimes, fragments of reality are positioned against their reality to a kind of virtual overall structure. You have to follow the strip, basically turn it back into a film again, letting it pass like the landscape from a train window. At the same time, you are driven vertically into another short, moving across the long one.
The representational work here relies on an analytically synthesising observer, placing diachronically what is in synchrony, who is an observing individual exclusively able to do exactly that. Were it dissolved into mere nature only, it could only perceive practically, in the scheme of stimulus and reaction, something the totalitarian masters of Hitlerism and Stalinism had headed for, to bring the individual into the scheme of stimulus and reaction, the scheme of action. This book, however, representationally argues against the scheme of stimulus and reaction, which is against mere nature, and liberates Matysik’s idea of communication for its stronger sense of the merging of programmes always remaining in some contrast to each other by way of continuous change. This is directed against machinisation and automatisation. And this means that individualism always starts again from mere nature, nature is only fantastic in the individual imagination, fantasy only produced by it.
But do the effects of the extreme multiplicity of structures, figures and fragments in the multiplicity of colours not seem close to the fantastic and the sublime, extremely close, like kitsch? The multiplicity here reminds one of a living coral reef. And indeed, nature cannot be kitsch. The sentence, of course, is only true objectively; in a subjective view of nature, kitsch may well be possible. It can be sensed in the common admiration of sunrises and sunsets. And how did Max Frisch put it so nicely? They were standing at the railing, looked at the nightly sky across the sea; they talked about the stars, the usual stuff.
In Matysik’s strip of images, however, everything is working against the standards and norms of industrial kitsch. This is why everything reminds one of it and is everywhere avoided, though. Whoever rushes at a kitsch motif is interrupted immediately. There is a garden insofar as natural landscape has been fragmented, thereby gaining the character of an island of simulation, as had been popular in English gardening for some time, to install small fragments of foreign landscapes. And into the spaces between the fragments, which would otherwise overlap or join, move, writhe artificial plants, artificial animals, announcing garden from garden cultivation. In total, however, it is a garden out of gardens in which no path can run out for a while in the gardening of everything and despite the flow of the film reel. This representational restlessness alone works against any kitsch effect. As the strip is before us in completeness, the kitsch of the montage of prong images is prevented. Instead, the strip structure overturns into a series of interlocking labyrinthian views.
If this wanted to turn from the motives of garden and enclosure via artificial plants and animals to a theory of genetic engineering, then a gene technology of the handicraft type would suffice, being as old as farming and cattle breeding. It has done wonders with regard to the flowering of plants in terms of traditional cultivation and cross-breeding, also in terms of sexual metaphors. One only has to think of roses and carnations of multiple vaginalities behind which the phallic disappears. Or think of the cultivation of the Arum maculatum which can best be studied on the South Breton Belle-Île-en-Mer, aggravated many-eyed phalli behind which the vaginal disappears. But then, already the handicraft type of genetic engineering was made methodological by Darwin and Mendel, thereby transforming it into a technology. Soon after, an ideology attached itself to it which turned the intention of these experimentalists and empiricists into its opposite. Both originals wanted to understand the emergence of new phenomenalities in life, the oncoming racism celebrated the re-breed of the aurochs and of the fair-haired beast. Darwin declared the change and mixture of genetic programmes as the central principal of life, racism preached the purity of races and, as a result, celebrated the reduction of survival.
The garden as the place of and refuge for breeding was, in consequence, ideologically precarious even before genetic engineering wanted to change the genetic programmes directly on the molecular level. But Matysik’s strip of images, by having gardens break into public nature and by fragmentising public nature into simulative island gardens, makes gardens break into themselves and lets nature break apart – the gardening of nature.