Unexpected Gardens

 Les Jardins Imprévus
reviewed by Jack Ruttan

First published in the Montreal Mirror, 1993


 As the city splits apart at the seams, the plants which used to cover the whole island begin to reassert themselves. They're visible in every crack of the concrete and in every vacant lot. Harsh, even genocidal measures are taken to beat them back: poisons, weedeaters; still they reappear. Doug Buis, Ginette Bergeron and Jennifer Macklem, while not calling themselves environmentalists, are on the side of the plants. The exhibition they've developed, Les Jardins Imprévus, [Unforeseen Gardens] is about unexpected greenery in places where growth is discouraged.

It's obvious that the twenty-odd artists participating in the project identify with these outlaw plants. Nadine Norman was making her garden when irate neighbours and police appeared demanding that she take the "junk" away. She's come back and replaced her installation several times.

 There are lots of little anecdotes around this exhibition. Suzanne Roux's single plant disappeared from the wall along West Duluth Street. Rumour had it that the plant had been rescued and taken to the Café Santropol. Subsequent investigation turned up nothing: the plant has vanished again.

The exhibition has two parts: The safe traditional part is in the Strathearn Centre. Here are indoor gardens which look like art and numbered photographs which can be identified on a list. Study these photographs well, because they might be your only clue to what to look for when you go on the second part of the exhibition. These outdoor gardens are marked out on a map, and are set up in twenty different locations around the city. Take a bicycle, and bring a compass too.

 It's not meant to reflect badly on the artists, but sometimes the act of finding the spot, and then seeing the surroundings is as interesting as the art work itself. Anne Thibeault understands. Her garden is a real garden which has been abandoned. I wasn't certain if I'd found the actual place, but it didn't matter. There were ripe raspberries ready for picking.

 Some of the works might be accused of being a little too "Zen." Gérald Potvin's garden is apparently visible only at certain times of the day. I went there to 4878 Henri-Julien and found only a window box, a painted circle on the wall, and a fat orange cat. You can stand in the middle of François Paul Edmond's sand circles sprinkled on Gilford street and think you've been sent on a wild goose chase. But there are gardens all around you, and you'll find yourself choosing your own special spots as you start to look more carefully.

 These outdoor works seem so fragile, made mainly of greenery when most outside art is made of bronze or stone. It was surprising that no one had stomped on Philbin and Birks' tiny log cabin in the lot behind Bleury and Ste-Catherine, neither had anyone urinated in the tiny lake. Eric Raymond has set up another little sanctuary at St-Laurent and Mont-Royal. His leaves made of cut-out photographs take a visitor instantly into the wilderness.

 Keep an eye out for Doug Buis' wheat-germed bicycle, which will show up chained to posts at various crowded places around the city. This work really sums up what the exhibition is about. It wants us to take another look at a world we would usually just pass by.

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