Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Sex drives and video takes

  • Comment
Enclosed and Enchanted At the Museum of Modern Art, Pembroke Street, Oxford until 8 October

The relation between building and landscape has been of great concern in recent decades and, in response, this exhibition makes three separate proposals. First, it suggests that the relation of building to land is based largely on unconscious human drives; the garden is a place where sexual drives and the death wish become powerfully evident. Next, it proposes that landscape painting is a kind of fiction, and so too is the making of a garden or a building. They are mental spaces in which representation is able to take place.

Finally, the show establishes a linguistic dialectic, in that the axis which has architecture at one end, and nature at the other, has the garden in between. Thus the show presents 10 works in a structure meant to define architecture in terms of desire, representation and language.

First is Guiseppe Penone's 3 Gesto Vegetale, which seems loathsome for being so close to a sentimental shopping mall decoration.Penone reflects negatively on past anthropomorphic tendencies in which nature is interpreted by projecting human qualities on to it. The crudeness of execution points out the infantility behind this ancient humanist view.

Once Penone has cleared the decks of historical flotsam, Stan Douglas' 12 large photographs of Schrebergartens show us those places where working-class Germans go to escape the repetition of the urban environment. These private relaxation gardens can be purposefully changed and given their own dynamic.We are left to ponder the ways nature is put to work to remedy the traumas of capitalist, industrial civilisation and the boredom of mass housing.

Jan Vercruysse's plans of Labyrinth and Pleasure Gardens continue the theme of fantasy and desire in the garden. Plans, being the most abstract of drawing forms, reveal best the conceptual aspects of a design. Resembling French Baroque gardens, these plans give clear expression to design principles, but Vercruysse disrupts the received wisdom that English gardens are sexier. At first these drawings appear to be logical keys to garden labyrinths; only prolonged viewing reveals traces of unconscious entities, as faces, genitals and sperm images begin to jump out.

Christina Iglesias' freestanding Vegetation Room V presents a claustrophobic but private thicket of crudely cast plants, made intentionally artificial in the way that all language, sculpture and architecture is a constructed thing. The well-known team of Gilbert and George have been placed beside her to good effect. With a gentleman's restraint they too make clear, through their posing, the constructedness of our take on nature. Their large paper drawings made from assembled sheets are photographic, but also stained and blotted.Through an inscription they tell us that: 'Forever we will search and give our thought to the picture we have in our mind.' Feel the melancholic alienation set in from their constant inability to have an encounter with nature.Language and representation are forever in the way, keeping the subject separated.

Jean-Marc Bustamante's Stationnaire I presents photographs of dense screens of conifers that result in a flat 'textual' space which nevertheless is natural.

He reminds us of the fine line between linguistic space and natural space. This installation is like a visit inside the architect's mind - full of scattered identical concrete L-blocks, and flat photographs of a flat site.With the concrete blocks he gives us the raw components of an architectural language surrounded by images of a potential building site.

Finally, the show provides an opportunity to see Arata Isozaki's languorously poetic video collaboration with Takahiko Iimura. Ma is a careful 16-minute study of scale and space in a sixteenthcentury stone garden.

Tim Martin teaches at De Montfort University

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.