Garden of Earthly Distortions

Lisa Rapoport, part of the PLANT design team behind the outdoor installation A Conversation of Views at Oakville, Ontario’s Gairloch Gardens, tells us the site was “once filled with the noise of billowing laundry, barking dogs, [and] whispering servants.” It is easy enough to imagine such differentiated aural activity previously occupying the grounds where a motley of elements are now raucously assembled, all of which point out the irony of dialogue, which often assumes a simple self- and other-perspective; that dialogue is never a matter of point and counterpoint–that it is ripe with multiple shifting, warping, and distorting viewpoints.

A large anti-perspectival Victorian Gazing Globe, for instance, juxtaposed with a perspectival Viewing Frame located at the end of a gangplank-like Viewing Table, suggest distortion and clarity respectively. These objects’ proximity to one another underscore that each view is radically different from any other. But cheekily countering any truly ordered perspective we might obtain, an etched vinyl polka-dot pattern on the plexi-glass inserted into the Viewing Frame immediately distorts an object placed in front of it. Most frequently viewed through the frame is the Lake Ontario horizon line of sea and sky, but any objects placed in front of it are closer than they will appear–just as blurred as the lake’s vanishing point.

The large, three-foot diameter Gazing Globe offers a self-portrait of equal, if not greater, uncertainty of view, obtained by way of distortion. If you stand in front of it and move a bit, it seems that the whole reflected image moves with you. Indeed, the effect of your own movement is an earth-shattering, albeit playful existential crisis: when the whole landscape moves too, your view of yourself can appear as shaky as anyone else’s. You are, in the midst of these variegated elements, as questioning of your own view as you are of the view of yourself offered back through the globe.

A smaller Gazing Globe, about 18 inches in diameter, is located at the lake end of the wood-beam pavilion, the largest of the installation’s elements. Together with the larger Gazing Globe, historical-cultural associations are evoked: the designers note in their description that the Victorians’ penchant for glass reflective balls in the garden allowed for surveillance by servants who wished to enter a space at the right time, and for estate owners to spy on lovers or simply capture a portrait view of the garden.

The playful preoccupation with dialogic boundaries and self-other delineation can not be ignored as you walk between the objects of the installation. The designers maintain that “dialogue begins across the interior space between the objects.” As for the wooden framed pavilion called the Bench, it “concentrates the sitters in [a] collision of views.” These elements are, after all, only assays in the search for fixed points in a landscape, views that are imposed as quickly as they are taken away.

While all of this can leave you with the vague sense of walking through the three-dimensional version of a Pink Floyd concept album cover, these elements leave you–or you leave them, you hope–with a fresh perspective.

A Conversation of Views by PLANT is installed to summer, 2004 in the Gairloch Gardens, Oakville Galleries, in Oakville Ontario. An accompanying essay by critic Kenneth Hayes is available. See or (905) 844-4402.