Gardening As Performance Art
Updated: Feb 1, 2019
Early in its first season, our 1100 sq ft community garden on the grounds of CLC USA on Camp Hill in Fort Washington, overlooking the beautiful city of Philadelphia.
There was a longstanding tradition among the Old Testament prophets to not only declare prophecies but to act them out. Many times the Lord would give a prophet a topic to preach to the people and more often than not the topic would require something theatrical along with or to replace the sermon. They would do performance art.
These prophets intended to make a statement with their actions. They did shocking and offensive things to not only get attention but to call their audience to change. The prophets weren't very popular because they pointed out what's wrong about everything. They saw right through the charade that people made of their lives and called them to something more authentic. People didn't really like that. The institutions REALLY didn't like it and it often got the prophets into a lot of trouble.
When the world is messed up in a certain way and you feel compelled to change it, often times talking about it just annoys people but acting it out as performance art has the uncanny ability to really piss people off! Well, in this day and age, nothing pisses people off more than gardeners. No? Well, maybe it should though.
Let's contrast gardening with industrialized farming.
At this stage of the gardening game, whether you have a small backyard plot, a CSA or community garden, is just not realistically sustainable for large amounts of people. It also takes a lot of work, time and energy. It actually requires a different kind of culture altogether, an agrarian society. The modern world is an industrialized society.
We are in the early stages of a post-industrial farming culture-shift so the avant-garde, the future, the beautiful reality of quality local food for lots of people is mostly an anomaly.
People don't do gardening because it's the best way to get lots of food to your table. They do it because it's a foretaste of something better.
Gardening presents an alternative reality to the industrialized nature of massed produced food.
Gardening is art. It's performance art to be exact. It's prophetic. It's the realization/actualization (in small and momentary amounts) of an idealized future.
I'm not saying that gardening is an art. We all know that it is its own art form. You have to be an artist to design a garden. You have to have an artistic eye to cultivate fruits, vegetables and flowers. There have been lots of books written about that.
The act of Gardening is a type of performance art because it makes a socio-political statement about the way the world is and offers an alternative for what the world could be.
Are we all returning to pre-industrial lifestyles?
That's the picture that is being painted. But are we really returning to pre-industrial values? I think we may actually want both an agrarian, bucolic life and an industrialized urban society. Well, the story of the Bible ends with this very thing! A garden city. Too bad it's not a little more specific in the practical out-workings of streets paved with gold and trees lying in the middle of the city. It seems we are going to have to work out how the bucolic and urban can be together in one place. I'm not saying I know how this should be. I'm just affirming that that feeling you have deep inside that longs for the countryside as well as all the benefits of urban technology and human know-how, that feeling is a valid one. We may have to choose one or the other right now but we won't have to in the future. So let's bring the future to our right now.
So when you have a garden you are performing a prophetic work of art. You are demonstrating what could be. You are protesting what shouldn't be. You are offering an alternative reality to one of the most basic aspects of humanity, food.
We are not doing a garden because it's good for the economy. We are gardening because it's good for society. The economy will get there. Just ask Wendell Berry.
Be an artist. Grow local. Eat together.