The garden can’t cope with itself: its paralysis?

Burg­hart Schmidt

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.