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In Stanisław Lem’s novel Fiasco (1986) the attempts to communicate with the inhabitants of a distant planet fail because of the human crew’s inability to distinguish the members of this society from the planet’s landforms. At the end of the novel only one member of the crew realises that the aliens are, in fact, what appeared to be familiar heaps of landforms, covered in vegetation. Defamiliarisation is a central device of science fiction, a mechanism through which our everyday surroundings become strange due to their subjection to an alien, foreign perspective. Defamiliarisation of nature has, within science fiction, its own consistent history, before and beyond Lem's animated green hills. From stories of killer plants to alien bushes suddenly turning ominous, there's a tradition of the natural world becoming unfamiliar and menacing.
The book features photography, drawings and a sci-fi story written by the artist Irina Gheorghe. It uses strategies of defamiliarisation to engage with Dublin city's urban space, in particular its gardens, parks and outdoor sports fields. The focus lies on three emblematic green spaces in Dublin: the formal garden at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the GAA pitch in Saint Enda's park and the suburban back garden as a generic, familiar place. In addition to the short story, the publication also features an essay by the curator Sara Damaris Muthi, both texts quadrilingual (in Romanian, Irish, German and English). The use of these four languages speaks to the artist and curator’s shared and separate cultural spheres, and as a way, through translation, to add additional layers of defamiliarisation. In the performance, recognisable environments are further integrated into new docu-fictional scenarios through text and movement, thus rendered unfamiliar.
Backgarden Trilogy was born from the artist and curator’s shared experience as Romanian residents living in Dublin. Unfamiliar with the purposes of ‘H’ shaped white metal posts scattered through public parks, these structures were, for Gheorghe, reminiscent of extra-terrestrial symbols found in the landscapes of sci-fi novels. The parks, gardens and green areas referenced through this work are both natural and artificial, rendering these environments even more unnatural; while retaining their familiarity; it transforms them into terrestrial back gardens with a view to a ‘great outdoors’.
Published on the occasion of Irina Gheorghe's Backgarden Trilogy performance at Goethe-Institut Irland, 23 November 2023. Commisioned by Sara Damaris Muthi, funded by Fingal County Council and supported by the Goethe-Institut Irland. Each publication is hand-finished by the artist with tape and edition number. Design by Wolfe Hall.
125 x 175 mm