In 2016-17 I am working on a series of acrylic paintings on unprimed, unstretched canvas. My inspiration is the Giardino dell’Eden – quite literally a walled, locked garden named Eden, located in Venice, Italy, on the island of Giudecca.
Giudecca was Venice’s industrial island until this city, like many others, began a slow process of deindustrialization following the second World War. Although gentrification has certainly begun here, Giudecca is not as yet as inaccessible as Venice in terms of housing and affordability.
I discovered the existence of the Venetian ‘Garden of Eden’ on my first trip to Venice in June 2015. My travel companions, fellow-artists Kelly Thompson and Kathleen Vaughan and I learned, as have other travellers, artists, and researchers before us, that the garden was thanks to Frederick and Caroline Eden, British ex-pats hoping to heal their ailments in warm, Venetian climes. Caroline Eden was the older sister of the famous British gardener, Gertrude Jekyll, and the garden would welcome Jekyll along with other well-known British, French, and Italian cultural figures during the Eden’s tenure.
After Caroline Eden’s death in 1926, the garden had various owners, including a tragically sad queen, and is said to have been, for a time, a gay pickup spot. But it was never a public space, and became even more private after the Hungarian artist and architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, purchased it, and left it to grow largely untended. Since Hundertwasser’s death in 2000, the ownership of the property has been in dispute and the gates more firmly locked than ever.
Like other artists, we have become enamoured both of the garden’s secret life and its ambiguous status as both a heritage site and Venice’s largest locked garden. But we are also interested in its context, as its heyday paralleled the island’s most industrious – and industrial – years. As of this writing we are each building bodies of work that speak to the various threads in the Eden Garden story, musing upon the what it means for three secular women to desire to access the (a?) Garden of Eden in the early years of the twenty-first century. For that is what we would wish – to make the garden public, even if only for a day.
And should that desire remain unrealized, our material practices in painting, weaving, and mapping will be the trace of our journey.