Performing the Transitory Space: Landscape Gardens and the Enactment of Identity

    • IMG_2754
    • Presentation speakers
      • Katarzyna Kaczmarczyk, University of Warsaw, Poland


    18th century English gardens were created as places inverting the norms expected of the interior and the exterior, natural and artificial spaces. They are influenced by a house (the ultimate interior) which structures the orientation of space, and by the outside landscape (the ultimate exterior) which visually merges with the garden. Gardens have special relationship to the notion of their own boundaries – denying their existence visually, while using them to structure visitors’ movement. These gardens are thus both interior and exterior, challenging the norms of social space and creating the landscapes of semiotic uncertainty, both uncanny and enchanting. There is an important social context to the emergence of landscape gardens. At the turn of the 17th and 18th century in England, changes in the market economy complicated relations between various interest groups, leading to the slow emergence of what we could now tentatively call a middle class, which was then ‘a somewhat amorphous group, ranging from wealthy merchants and prominent professionals down to larger-scale farmers and shopkeepers’(Williamson 1995: 17). Society simultaneously become more open – placing less value on blood relation and lineage – and more closed – restricting positions of power to those who possessed the property and education to be a valuable member of that society. As John Barrell aptly observed, one of the skills needed, was the ability to see the relations between general terms and specific objects, and to abstract from empirical data. In the context of gardens, this means being able to see the general idea behind the confusing, surprising variety, understanding the inversion of the norms in gardens (Barrell 1995: 81-83). In the recent scholarly writing about landscape gardens it is the intellectual understanding of space that is emphasised: the structure of gardens was hidden and the visitors were supposed to show that they were able to abstract it from the mass of empirical data. However, gardens were also experienced through movement and bodily behaviour. Similarly to the hidden structure of the garden, the correct bodily behaviour of the visitor was not explicitly codified. It was a shared cultural knowledge of only a part of the society and the bodily enactment of the shared norms was without a doubt a sign of social identity, and was also strengthening and materializing that identity. The objective of my paper is to show how landscape gardens were not only perceived, but bodily performed and how this somatic enactment was a crucial building block of identity. To do so, I am going to analyse two gardens created in the first half of the 18th century (Stowe and Rousham) and the literature about visiting them.