In the 1875 painting View of Palermo, by Francesco Lojacono, nothing is indigenous. Olive trees came from Asia, aspen from the Middle East, eucalyptus from Australia, prickly pear from Mexico, loquat from Japan. Citrus trees – a symbol of Sicily – were introduced under Arab sovereignty as part of the intensive cultivation of the area around the city, the Conca d’oro. The botanical garden, one of the main venues of M12, was founded in 1779 as a laboratory to nurture, study, test, mix and export foreign species. Manifesta 12 will look at Palermo and the idea of the garden, exploring its capacity to compose life out of movement and migration.
In 1999, the French gardener, botanist, entomologist and author Gilles Clement described the world as a “planetary garden”: an enclosed ecosystem on a circumscribed plot – with humanity at large charged with the responsibility of being its gardener.
In the 21st century vision, this metaphor of the garden gains fresh importance, not as a space for humans to try to take control, but rather as specific sites where “gardeners” recognize the agency of non-human actors, and respond to climate, time, or an array of social factors, in a shared endeavour of caring.
Today, the garden can be seen as a source for new models of tending the commons. Somewhere between grassroots and masterplans, gardens are living laboratories for syncretism where nature and culture collaborate, where different communities participate in forms of politics based on encounter, rather than exclusion and dispute. Gardens allow for crosspollination and ‘impurity’; they are arenas where humans and ecosystems have negotiated coexistence with the unfamiliar and the toxic. Where the “we” has been challenged in the encounter with the “others.”
Engaging with the spatial and institutional framework of Manifesta 12, as well as with the urban, historical, social and cultural structures of Palermo, MSC2 investigated some of the most relevant “gardens” in the city. We embarked into a journey across Palermo and its history looking for institutionalized or spontaneous, accessible or remote, public or secret, “pure or toxic” gardens in the city, seeking for possible narrations and future scenarios.