Dennis Feddersen’s mighty wooden structure sets the tone for the exhibition, nature growing rampant in the form of intertwining knots of wood. In the “Secret Garden“, tangles of vines from an imaginary jungle take over the civilised, sheltered interior of the gallery. Deliberately exposed to humidity and covered in earth, the material is mottled with dark patches, exuding a smell of organic processes and the forest floor. The show stages the invasive moment of a foreign, uncontrollable mass penetrating a confined space – a central part of Feddersen’s oeuvre.
Gardens tame the wilderness. From time to time, however, tangles of weeds, wild animals and grasses take over enclosed areas once again. Nature and culture collide. Dennis Feddersen examines the moment in which emotions overwhelm reason in extreme situations. Civilised thinking gives way to primitive drives, passion and rage dominate. Just as the wild fox skulks around the homely garden at night, these drives lie dormant within us, stepping out of the shadows at the opportune moment. This sense of menace is palpable in Feddersen’s photographs. One work depicts an outstretched hand holding a withered plant in a “reversal of Tistou“. Instead of helping everything to grow and blossom with its "green thumbs", as the protagonist of Maurice Druon’s children’s book does, this hand only yields wilted flowers, denounced like the repressed memories that dwell in the subconscious and influence our thoughts and actions. Another image shows a body with an earthen structure bursting asunder on its shoulders instead of a head in which the viewer imagines they see faces. The clay structure refers back to the wooden installation occupying the same space, as does the motif of explosion, the sense of material expanding forcefully into the space that surrounds it. The formal language employed here is characteristic for Feddersen and can be seen in earlier works too.
A further photograph shows the back of a man in a bathtub – it is not clear whether or not he is alive from the image. The bath is filled with milk, the clear surface arresting the scene, just as amber conserves blossoms forever. The title of the work – “Amber Marat“ – clearly references Jacques-Louis David’s “Death of Marat“. The original painting depicts a stabbed man in the bathtub, taken by surprise by his murderess at the very moment he thought he could relax. A wall expansively painted with black ink forms the centre of Feddersen’s exhibition. Reminiscent of a Chinese landscape painting where the ink has run in the rain, it subtly plays with the disappearance and reemergence of the garden motif. On the wall also hangs a photograph of a man bending protectively over an egg made of clay, as if in an attempt to shield it from the fragile possibility of a new beginning.
Here the positive side of Feddersen’s “Secret Garden“ surfaces – gardens are also nurturing spaces where things blossom and flourish. The title of the exhibition alludes to the eponymous book by Frances Hodgson Burnett where humans find back to themselves in a secret garden – the site of regeneration and new beginnings. Eros and Thanatos, blossoming and wilting, nature and civilization. These are the opposites that Feddersen unites in his garden. “Whoever enters the gardens of the human encounters the powerful layers of orderly internal and external actions.” writes Peter Sloterdijk in “You must change your life“. If you leave the protected space you put yourself in danger. But you also might find the way back to yourself.
Text by Maja Hoock / 2016