Galerija za zvok, bioakustiko in umetnost / Gallery for sound, bioacustics and art

Neja Tomšič: Untangling a Garden

Official opening of the TO)pot festival
Performance-in-progress, 20 min
Thursday, 28 Sep, at 20:00

4-channel sound installation
28 Sep—1 Oct 2023

Photo: ZMKT.

Untangling a Garden combines the imaginations of two parks: one of the first exotic parks in Slovenia (Rafutski Park) and the imaginary park of the socalled Alexandria women in Alexandria. Both parks emerged in the first half of the 20th century during a period of intense relations and migration between the countries. As they came to be called in Slovenia, the Alexandrians came in thousands from poor and rural areas, mainly from the west of Slovenia. They migrated to Alexandria to work in various care professions as nannies, wet nurses, chaperones. Rafutski Park is a property around the so-called Egyptian villa, built in neo-Islamic style by Anton Laščak, a Slovenia-born architect who worked in Egypt as the chief architect of Abbas Hilmi II. The park was long abandoned, growing into a closed-off garden with overgrown plants. In contrast, the park in Alexandria was where regional vegetables, most notably a salad green indigenous to the region back home, were grown for the community of Slovenian women.

The installation merges sound recordings of Rafutski Park just before its renovation in 2022, interspersing them with a list of exotic and invasive species that grew there and the criteria qualifying their uniqueness (exceptional height, diameter, aesthetic value, age and testimonial value). This sound garden is populated with newspaper headlines and quotations from articles on the attempts of Slovenian men to prevent intensive female migration to Egypt in the first half of the 20th century, and fragments of poems pointing to the correlation between the Alexandrians imagination and a Slovenian mythological story of Lepa Vida (Beautiful Vida) that significantly contributed to the erasure of aleksandrikas history. The installation confronts these conceptions, creating a new, imaginary garden where trees and plants become co-narrators, and the garden is a materialization of overgrown narratives and imaginations. During the Caravan residency, a nomadic residency last year, where the project was developed, a performative planting of a sukanski regut garden bed was held in Biella. The empty garden bed remains a trace of that action. A bare plot of land – undisputable evidence that plants and seeds aren’t made to travel and a reminder of gardens’ erased histories.

Neja Tomšič is a visual artist, researcher and a writer with a background in painting. Her multidisciplinary practice merges research with drawing, performance, video and sound. By uncovering overlooked and hidden stories from history, her passion is to create performative forms that would instigate new understandings of the present. She is a co-founder of the Museum of Transitory Art – MoTA and a member of the Nonument Group, an art collective awarded the Plečnik Medal in 2021. She was a programme producer and curator of the SONICA music festival from 2017 to 2020.

The garden bed was provided by courtesy of Abandoned Plants Sanctuary.