The idyllic park of the German Academy Rome Villa Massimo is enclosed by an impressive wall, which only a little while ago was still topped by barbed wire. Access is allowed to Rome Prize Fellows and guests; to open the large iron gate one has to ring a bell and to patiently await the answer of the secretary. Villa Massimo is a restricted garden, indeed.
The artistic duo FAMED for some years already is interested in biodynamic gardening – in its praxis as well as in the connected socio-ecological theories, which not only draw relations between the world of plants and human society but also deal with a larger concept of interconnectedness. Shortly after their arrival in Rome, FAMED started experimenting with planting autochthon seeds they imported from their German home in Leipzig to see which effect the Italian soil and climate would have on these floral migrants. In the beginning of March 2020, due to the fast spreading new Corona Virus and the decision of the Italian government to impose a nationwide curfew, what always had seemed to be a restricted garden turned into a kind of golden cage. The artist duo FAMED, which had grown up in the GDR, refused to accept the idea of an impermeable separation. Sticking strictly to governmental sanctions, they did not leave the park of Villa Massimo except for doing the groceries, but with the help of tools and instruments they found on the premises, they built a device to proof that their no such thing like isolation. They mounted three movable earth patches on the electric vehicle of Villa Massimo’s gardeners and equipped it with a huge sail, in order to catch the wind and, most of all, to capture the seeds that cross the walls traveling with the breeze. For six weeks, the vehicle, a movable restricted garden within the restricted garden, was moved each day to different spot along the walls, following the wind of the day.
After the end of the lockdown, when Villa Massimo’s gardeners were again allowed in and reclaimed their vehicle, the artists unmounted the three flower beds to observe which kind of intruders have taken root and will grow. In conclusion the plants from the three mobile patches were planted into the park of Villa Massimo so as to become a part of the surroundings.
The Restricted Garden still is a work in process with obvious traits of institutional (if not even in a larger sense social) critique. It cannot be read without a reference to the art history of the hortus conclusus, the cloister garden with flowers, fruits and often a fertile well surrounded by unsurmountable walls. The garden of the monastery, protecting not only the nuns but indeed Virgin Mary herself, is charged symbolically with the ideas of pureness and immaculacy. FAMED’s subversive act of fertilizing the restricted garden is questioning the broader concept of virginity, not of the female gender but of communities, which can only survive by being permeable.
Photos: Alberto Novelli, FAMED (2,4,5,6)