Thoughts On: Manifesta12 2018 (Part One: Becoming Garden)


    Over two separate essays, of which this is the first, I will examine two projects that were part of MANIFESTA 12 (M12), which took place in and around the city of Palermo on the island of Sicily off the south-west coast of Italy. 

    The first project that I will examine is Coloco and Gilles Clément's Becoming Garden (2018), described in M12’s own literature as an installation. Becoming Garden appears to be an interventionist, action-based project addressing a deep socio-political concern within a specific community. The act or aim of transforming whole communities does not immediately appear to be within the sphere or capability of art practice. The idea that art must serve a function in the lexicon of human needs - that it must have purpose - has become an important factor applications for funding and institutional support. It can seem at times that the line between artists practising art and artists acting as social activist is increasingly blurred and this is why I decided to analyse Becoming Garden.

    I will ask, using certain strands of arguments within A. Jelenik’s 2013 book This Is Not Art: Activism and Other ‘Not Art’ Part 1: Setting the Scene and P. Goldie and E. Schellekens 2010 book Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art?, what qualifies Becoming Garden as art. To do this I will seek evidence that Becoming Garden fulfils the following five criteria: Philosophical Underpinnings, A Work-Narrative, An Artist, A Physical Object or Outcome, Institutional Legitimisation.

    The second work that I will look at, in a further essay, will be Fallen Fruit's immersive installation Theatre of the Sun (2018).

Description of the Project

[1] “… the garden is an attempt to establish a long-term collective project capable of fostering a new feeling of appropriation of free space. It is about establishing a framework to renegotiate the relationship between residents and their public spaces and beyond…" Coloco 2018 (as Translated by: Google Translate, 18th April 2020)

    Coloco and Gilles Clément's Becoming Garden was a project focused on creating a garden within the Zen district of Palermo from abandoned, un-nurtured land. The land in question is in the centre of one of the gridded housing blocks of Zen 2. The space that the project utilised was originally designed as a large courtyard-type area, open on one side to the street – and had become neglected and run down due to the entrenched poverty and deprivation of the area. It was proposed that creating a garden together could give the residents the opportunity to invest personally in the public space outside their homes, creating positivity in the area.

    The Zen district is a living, breathing clash between intent (public planning) and reality (how people inhabit space) that is already under scrutiny and the focus of multiple regeneration efforts. Core to Becoming Garden was the establishment of an active relationship between residents and the surrounding environment, encouraging disenfranchised residents to have a feeling of agency towards the buildings and spaces they inhabit. In order to do this, within the framework of the project, it was imagined that each resident becomes “…a landscaper-gardener of space, and experiences the creation of favorable soil fertility conditions, reduction of waste of materials, and conservation of existing biodiversity.” (M12, 2018). The idea being that the resident-landscaper-gardener’s feelings about their environment could grow nurturing in lockstep with the cultivating of the wasteland.

    The project was set up in line with French collective Coloco’s ethos of an open invitation to all ‘to work’ the land together. The idea here being that a structure of working collaboratively towards the common goal of garden-creation could enable bonds to be formed between the residents and the land, as well as between each other. In this way, the project is using the act of transforming the soil from infertile to fertile as both metaphor and literal growing ground for ideas and community cohesion.


Philosophical Underpinnings

“It is discourse which makes art… Art requires the writing and thinking about art to exist, otherwise objects are understood, even perceived, as something else.” Jelinek (2013, p.48)

    The theme of 2018's M12 Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence was based on the core principles outlined in Clément’sphilosophical text The Planetary Garden. Across Palermo, art installations and shows sought to use "the garden as a metaphor for diversity and cultural cross-pollination that embodies the city" (Muñoz, 2018).

    To begin with the existence of Clément’s philosophical writings, from the Planetary Garden page on Clément’s website:

The Planetary Garden is a means of considering ecology as the integration of man - the gardener - into its smallest spaces. It’s guiding philosophy is based on the principle of the Garden in Motion « Do the most for, the minimum against » The ultimate goal of the Planetary Garden consists of exploiting diversity without destroying it: continuing to operate the »planetary machine », making possible the existence of the garden, hence the gardener.” 

    As proof of an existing dialogue prior to Becoming Garden, Clément’s Planetary Garden concept is realised in the Mediterranean Garden of the Domaine du Rayol in the south of his native France. The Mediterranean Garden embodies several ofClément’s ideas: Le Jardin en Mouvement, L’Homme Symbiotique, and Tiers-Paysage as described within the Domaine du Rayol’s webpage L’Espirit du Jardin. The dialogue of ideas-space-people can be said to exist already in the Domaine du Rayol and continue within Becoming Garden. In addition to The Planetary Garden, it can be seen that each of the ideas within the Mediterranean Gardenare relevant to the discourse behind, and realisation of, Becoming Garden.

    Le Jardin en Mouvement (The Garden in Movement) speaks of a garden that is always changing, shaped by the flora within it, a garden which fluxes with the natural growth and decay of the flora and fauna within it, and which you may not be able to tell where it begins and ends. Becoming Garden speaks of using and embracing the natural biodiversity, and it can be seen in the photographs of the garden that the edges are left wild and open. This garden is not overly-managed or controlled in the way of the traditional English Garden, for example.

    Finally addressing Tiers-Paysage (The Third Lansdscape) can also be seen in the aim of Becoming Garden, to be a garden that takes it’s cues from wild-land, land that “…provides a refuge for the diversity that has been driven out of everywhere else. It is a source of biodiversity for the gardener, a mutually beneficial arrangement.” Domaine du Rayol (n.d.) the wasteland-space in ZEN2 reclaimed and transformed is exactly the type of space described within this portion of philosophy, covering both the plants and their metaphorical counterparts: the residents.

    In particular L’Homme Symbiotique (The Symbiotic Man):

The ideal political project of man-as-gardener answers the questions raised by spatial finitude: recycling, energy resources, demography and the art of living.” Domaine du Rayol (n.d)

    Here, we can see that Clément believes that in an ideal symbiosis of man and nature, making man a gardener, gives him recourse to address wider political questions. Becoming Garden is an attempt to bring that symbiosis to the residents of Zen, to help them as their concerns are – as I will explain in the section on Work Narrative - of a wider socio-political nature.

    Moving beyond the discussion of Clément to the other collaborators involved in Becoming Garden:

[2] “Coloco also gives an important part to the transmission and teaching in which we are all involved in different forms of workshop, workshop or conferences, both academic and more informal.” Coloco’s Manifeste (n.d.) 
(Translated by Google Translate: 18th April 2020)

    Coloco have created dialogue through the utilisation of workshops and conferences, for example ‘Faire et (re)faire’, also involving Clément, in June 2012 which discussed the cultivation of public spaces as collective action. Further, in 2017 Coloco worked with Le projet Chantier de Participatif Amédée Huon/Lamant in Ivry sur Seine on bringing together residents, designers and municipal services to collectively put together a new community garden where no public space previously existed. To do this they held debates and exchanges locally, as well as tree-planting and construction workshops. By holding these conferences, workshops and debates within previous projects, as well as part of Becoming Garden in 2018, Coloco are supporting the practical and philosophical dialogue surrounding the community garden to exist.

    Clément’s achievements as a philosopher provide a strong base for the growth of discourse surrounding the central Planetary Garden theme as it exists within the Becoming Garden project. In addition, specific settings have been established and supported by M12 and Coloco in order for discourse to exist at least throughout the running of M12. Therefore if to have Philosophical Underpinnings you need discourse, we can take as a given that the prerequisite of Philosophical Underpinnings is fulfilled.

A Work-Narrative

“In the context of artworks, a work narrative is a narrative of the events surrounding and leading up to the creation of the work as we experience it.” Goldie and Schellekens (2010, p.65)

    Becoming Garden is situated in ZEN2, designed by architect Vittorio Gregotti in 1969 and completed in 1973. He envisioned an idealised brutalistic development, based on open multi-functional collective areas and a healthy dose of modernist architecture. Sadly, the idealistic vision did not succeed “…because of the progressive illegal squatting of the buildings and the very difficult management of economic and social relationship marked by a heavy mafia atmosphere.” Scolaro (2015, p.3). Notedly, the social spaces, sports facilities and schools were the structures and facilities left undeveloped, while the addition of a ring road surrounding the area cuts “… off any possible connection to existing villages, increas[ing] the ‘ghetto effect’” (Mazzola, n.d.).

    Already we can begin to see how complex the history of this district is, as stated within the M12 page on the district: “ZEN 2 is … at the centre of political debate and under intense media stigmatization.”. There are many ongoing interventions and “… a growing presence of active associations supporting its habitants…” (M12, 2018), not least of which is a group of residents Noi per lo ZEN who have commissioned a proposal for the complete demolition and rebuilding of the district, inspired by the same ideals as the original development (Mazzola, n.d.).

    Taking into account only these movements and reports, it can easily be demonstrated that there is a work-narrative behind Becoming Garden. In addition, there is a strong precedent for intervention within the district, of which the development of the Becoming Garden project is only a small part.

An Artist

“…it is artists who make art, to be presented to the ‘artworld public’ …not anyone is an artist just because they claim to be one, or because they crudely imitate the behaviour of the real artist.” 
Goldie and Schellekens (2010, p.46 - 48)

    Within the framework of the commissioning of Becoming Garden by M12 if the ‘artworld public’ are the audience invited by the biennial, and the art in question is the project of the garden, then logically the artist should be read as Coloco and Clément.

    Gilles A. Tiberghien, in the forward composed for “The Planetary Gardens” and Other Writings, describes Clément as a “…horticultural engineer, entomologist, landscape architect, and writer…”. This description could be taken as to having Clément’s approval as it introduces him before his own writings as published by Pennsylvania University Press in 2015. Even M12’s description of him does not mention the word artist, introducing him as: “…a contemporary landscape designer and philosopher, lecturer at the École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage de Versailles, and writer.” (M12, 2018).

    Coloco are described in the same introductory text by M12 as “a multidisciplinary design studio…” who have “… developed urban and landscape design projects, through both collective and direct interventions.”. Further, within their Manifeste they describe themselves as bringing together [3] “… Landscapers, Town planners, Botanists, Gardeners and Artists in a workshop on contemporary landscapes”. By listing artists as a category of people extraneous to themselves, we can see that Coloco are not including themselves within the category of Artists, and so therefore do not consider themselves artists.

    Leading me to conclude that if neither Coloco, nor Gilles Clément, nor even – despite legitimising the project as art – do M12 claim they are artists, then they are not artists. As I am arguing that one of the criteria for the project to be art is the presence of an artist, and I have proven that there is not, I am led to the finding that there can be no Art. Thus, on this point, the project Becoming Garden is not art because there is no artist present to have created it.

A Physical Object or Outcome for Appreciation

“Our commonsense idea of art is… that there is a physical medium by which we appreciate an artwork, and it is the physical medium that we need to directly perceive…” Goldie and Schellekens (2010, p.70 -71)

    As a physical object or outcome, there now exists a garden that can be visited, directly perceived and appreciated. Also in existence are photographs and video montages of the progress of the space becoming a garden that can be directly perceived and appreciated. Any one of the photographs, videos or garden itself could be seen as the physical object or outcome in question.

    In order to understand which physical object I should understand to be the outcome, I refer to the stated objective of Coloco within their Manifeste. As a collective they seek to draw on the talents and skills of a wide range of people, bringing them together to create landscapes gardens which they will not tend to themselves. ”Transmission” is a fundamental step within their process. The handing over of the garden to [4] “… those who will take care of it over time” can be taken in the case of Becoming Garden, as the moment of the true realisation of their work. In to achieve the outcome – the garden cannot continue to be art, it must ‘be garden’.

    With this in mind, examining the title, and the classification by M12 of the project as an ‘installation’: one reading is that the aspect of the project that is to be seen as the art is the actual act of the space ‘becoming’ the garden. Following this line of thought, the ‘installation’ on view is the actual process of the space becoming a garden, with tours facilitated by M12 filling the need for viewers to enact appreciation upon the installation. The interaction of the art public is vital to this reading, and so the garden is only an installation for however long there is a viewing public for. Now M12 has packed it’s bags and moved on, Becoming Garden no longer exists, because it has ‘become garden’ – therefore there is no longer the installation available to be a physical object to be appreciated.

Institutional Legitimisation

 “The issue of the Institutional definition of art is one of validity or legitimacy… curators from different generations created networks within the artworld, positioning themselves as legitimators of art and artists.”
Jelenik (2013, p. 56-57)

    The curators of the M12 programme have, through the inclusion of Becoming Garden within their biennial, legitimised and given weight to the reading of the project as art. By including Becoming Garden within their programme, M12 provided the structure and the audience for the series of workshops and tours to take place bringing the art-public to Zen. We could accept the validity and legitimacy of Becoming Garden as art, based on the authority of M12 as an Institution. Or, as I am doing, we could challenge that authority.

    It could be argued that the resident-landscaper-gardeners bought into the idea of Becoming Garden as art, as they stood to gain so much. Yet by providing an audience for the Installation as it took place from mid-June until the end of November and M12 has perhaps exposed the artworld public to the same question that I deliberate now. If “… no single person or institution has the power to define art, together and collectively we each contribute to it’s definition.” Jelenik (2013, p.44), then it would appear that there is a network of validity at play, everyone has to agree on the definition – there should be consensus.

    However, without the resources to ask every person associated with the project for their opinion the choice comes down to this: either you accept that Becoming Garden is art because you accept the power of the institution of Manifesta (as a prominent component of the artworld) to legitimise the definition of Becoming Garden as art – or you accept that my refusal to consent to the definition (I can do that, because as an artist I am a part of the artworld) suffices to disrupt the consensus needed.


    Becoming Garden aimed to create community cohesion and transform a small patch of land through embracing and embodying Gilles Clément’sphilosophies. Given the work-narrative behind the project, one can see the benefit of the inclusion of this project within M12 – funds are given, and there is potentially a positive social benefit to the people within the Zen district.

    A garden proposed to renegotiate the relationship of the residents to the area (and potentially the wider political spheres ‘beyond’) could fulfil some of the needs of the residents of Zen, but can Becoming Garden be said to have asked to be considered art? Becoming Garden failed two of my five criteria – An Artist and A Physical Object or Outcome for Appreciation – leading me to conclude that it is not art.

    In Clément’s L’Homme Symbiotique he speaks of “man-as-gardener as the perfect political act”. By transforming the residents collectively into gardeners, it would appear that it is this notion that Becoming Garden aims to fulfil – a political one.


[1] “… le jardin est une tentative d’établir un projet collectif à long terme capable de favoriser un nouveau sentiment d’appropriation des espaces libres. Il s’agit d’établir un cadre pour renégocier la relation entre les résidents et leurs espaces publics” Coloco 2018

[2] “Coloco accorde également une part importante à la transmission et l’enseignement dans lequel nous nous impliquons tous sous différentes formes d’atelier, de workshop ou de conférences tant académiques que plus informels.” Manifeste de Coloco (nd.)

[3] “… Paysagistes, Urbanistes, Botanistes, Jardiniers et Artistes en un atelier des paysages contemporains.” Manifeste de Coloco (n.d.)

[4] ”… ceux qui vont en prendre soin dans la durée” Manifeste de Coloco (n.d.) 


Reference List

CLEMENT, G and COLOCO (2018) Becoming Garden [Time-based Interactive Public Participatory Art Project: workshops, intervention in a public space, installation] Zona Expansione Nord, Palermo, Sicily

CLEMENT, G (nd) Le Jardin Planetaire, [online] n.d. Available at: Accessed: 10th April 2020

COLOCO (nd) Diventare Giardino, [online] n.d. Available at: (Accessed: 10th April 2020)

GOLDIE, P. and SCHELLEKENS, E. (2010) Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art?1stEd. Oxon; Routledge

JELENIK, A. (2013) This Is Not Art: Activism and Other ‘Not-Art’ London: I.B. Taurus

MAZZOLA, E.M., (nd) Proposal for Urban Regeneration for the Suburb ZEN, Palermo, Italy, International Making Cities Livable [online] Available at: Accessed: 10th April 2020

MUÑOZ,M (n.d.) The Planetary Garden. MANIFESTA 12 Palermo, Chromart [online] n.d. Available at: Accessed: 9th April 2020


TONDO, L. (2020) Mafia distributes food to Italy's struggling residents, The Guardian [online] 10th April 2020 Available at: Accessed: 10th April 2020

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