The Gardens series by Julia Kernbach is an attempt neither to depict landscaped gardens such as they are nor to produce a logical listing of different natural categories – such as waterways – or all the gardens in Europe. On the contrary, the places are cut down to extremes, which preserves their anonymity, and even the titles of the pictures give no real clues as to their concrete location. This is insignificant to the artist with respect to her artistic intention, especially as she does not actually take the photos herself in the locations, but selects them as a visual starting medium from books on garden architecture. The pictures she used were taken in the 1970s and 1980s, which can be seen in the characteristic colours typical of the period.
Julia Kernbach’s idea for the picture was not based on the real characteristics of an existing garden, on the contrary, selected small excerpts of landscaped nature were, to a certain extent, removed from their environment and their trusted surroundings. By removing nature from its concrete, real – you’re almost tempted to say ‘earthly’ – sphere, it is stylised by the artist into an idealistic image.
The creation process for the pictures can be interpreted as follows. The garden created by man is already a ‘shaped’ nature by dint of cultural intervention and has thus been robbed of its originality. It is also consciously a landscaped garden, which represents a space designed to portray social and political power for specific purposes. Even if the garden’s designer hoped it would transform desires or awaken the senses, only a few people were allowed to enter the gardens when they were created. Because of this historic connotation, it also becomes a political space, a space to demonstrate belonging or exclusion from a level of society.
Julia Kernbach’s garden extracts are uninhabited and because the sections are cut down into such small parts, it is very difficult for the observer to become involved and enter into the spaces. In creating the cuttings, the artist defined impenetrability as a criterion, and she found this in the books she used as templates. Once she selected a picture, she first created a repro of the whole photo and only then made a decision on the next stage, the final cut-out. Depending on the size or suitability of the template, the result is a picture which becomes art in the conscious visible grid system of the print by virtue of the template. This draws the observer’s attention to the formal criteria which define the picture. This is reinforced by the artist’s decision on the one hand to incorporate very little architecture in the form of buildings in her selection and on the other hand to dispense with the inclusion of the sky in the majority of cases. Without the sky, the picture cut-out becomes smaller and the image tends to become more abstract. This strategy by the artists converts the three-dimensionality and space within the image back into two-dimensionality, into a flat space. This means what start out as spatial devices – footpaths, beds and waterways, such as seen in “Seerosenbild” [waterlily picture] become flat strips of colour (with or without other lines running into them) which enclose the picture in an abstract construction.
At a content level, the strict embedding of the image in an abstract composition also triggers reflection on the actual moment of the image, which the artist describes as “perfect or silent time”. The “frozen” or “enraptured” moment, where nothing ordinary happens, forces an interpretation with respect to the artistry of the image. This is underlined still further by the 7 cm border around all the images, which reinforces the feeling of being ‘presented’ again.
The works are presented as ideal images behind shining Plexiglass, with a twofold shift in time. The century in which the gardens are created and the decade in which the photos were taken for the pictures, or the new image created by the artists, shift the location in time and give way to a timeless reflection of criteria for portrayal and promote visual contemplation on formal composition criteria.
Dr. Stefanie Kreuzer