Herlev, Open City

Regarding the landscape: What would happen if private property were to be abolished tomorrow?
Developments in the suburban municipality of Herlev would certainly take a new direction. Not that there would be any great risk of the residents backsliding into primitivism. Mad Max would never come to Herlev. But the landscape would change. Demarcation lines of previously private properties would gradually fade; individual plots would no longer be clearly separated. Thus, in time, a more cohesive landscape would arise. The suburban streets would no longer be the only thoroughfares by which to move around the neighbourhoods; traffic would not be as imperative as before now that the space had been opened up and the terrain transformed into a large, coherent landscape. Paths would be trodden and meander between houses, children would not have to play in the streets in order to find neutral ground, passageways would appear in hedges, hidey-holes in the bushes, and small, improvised playhouses in the fruit trees would lend a wonderfully untamed appearance to the area. Foxes would not be the only creatures to survive in this new landscape; hares and the odd wild boar would be seen in the clearings, now that the topography was no longer made up of isolated little enclosures but had unfolded into an open space, stretching to the horizon. The future would be boundless.

Aerial photo and map showing the residential area around Hjortespringvej, 2004.

This new landscape would display several stylistic traits of the English landscaped garden. It would be quite unlike the current, privatised environment, which is more reminiscent of the French park: a highly stylised wood, meant for riding in or driving through. The English landscaped garden sought a more organic expression; it was intended for dreamy, exploratory walks on winding paths proceeding from glades through thickets and so forth. It provided space and narrative for nervous perception, as well as for personal reflection and realization. The new landscape after the abolition of private property would probably evolve in this direction, maybe even progressing on towards unknown forms.

When I was invited to work as an artist in the suburban municipality of Herlev in connection with the Instant Herlev project, I began a long series of wanderings through the various landscapes that make up this district. There are several angles of approach available when exploring an area, but to me, landscape quickly became the central theme. I focused particularly on the residential area around Hjortespringvej, which features mainly detached, single-family homes. Carrying a camera, I walked the suburban streets, peering over hedges into gardens wherever I could. It was a kind of pleasure walk, combining passive enjoyment with a calm search for the curious and the unexpected.

But the pleasure was momentary. Strangers like myself very rarely stroll around a residential district just enjoying the scenery, and I slowly became aware of how I appeared to the casual observer: a burglar on the lookout for a quick job. Suburban neighbourhoods are places where everyone always has a purpose; whether they are going home, visiting friends, carrying out a job - or stealing. Nobody ever just drifts along the hedges. This kind of landscape is very definite and defines a specific type of purposeful behaviour. Generally speaking, this is lost land.

But of course I was able to walk the suburban streets and had these walks been charted on a map, they would have described a displaced, parallel series of back-and-forth motions. This gave me the idea that it would be interesting to lay out a winding, landscaped path cutting through a series of private gardens and connecting two or more parallel suburban streets. This landscaped path would create a new passage through the neighbourhood, which would not only break through the strict geometry of the plots but would transcend the privatised, subdivided landscape. Thus I hoped to provoke the human senses, conditioned by the present closed landscape, with an experience that was not intended to be understood within a merely utilitarian framework, an experience implying a possible landscape. I began planning The Landscaped Path in Herlev.

A possible delineation of The Landscaped Path in Herlev in the residential area near Hjortespringvej.
The landscaped garden arose in England in the mid-18th century and was, somewhat paradoxically, not inspired by nature as such, but by the works of the French painter Claude Lorrain. A century earlier, he had depicted heroic landscapes inhabited by shepherds, heroes and gods, scenes where man, nature and architecture melded in a nervous harmony. In his work, Lorrain paid particular attention to landscape; it was no longer just a backdrop to culture; it was depicted as an entity in its own right, having a life and a power of its own. Of course Lorrain’s visions were stylised in a distant and academic manner, but even the Situationists praised Lorrain’s paintings - particularly his harbours - for their particularly inciting depiction of a sum of possibilities. Lorrain’s pictures, mostly created in Italy in the middle of the 17th century, actually deal with the necessity of creating a representation of nature in an era where man had begun considering himself an inhabitant of an independent, organic nature founded in its own organic programme.

Claude Lorrain: Landscape with Sacrifice to Apollo, 1662.
Nonetheless, in the 18th century a few wealthy Englishmen decided to attempt to realize these representations and restore them to their “natural” surroundings by shaping the pieces of nature belonging to them, namely their parks and estates, according to the ideals envisioned by Claude Lorrain. This gave rise to the English landscaped garden that to this day meshes with Lorrain’s vision to influence our idea of a natural landscape. These concepts of nature flow through society like an undercurrent, influencing the layout of many private gardens. As the Danish landscape architect C.Th. Sørensen writes in a book from 1966: “Homeowners often want to squeeze the elements of a manor house-garden into their limited space, and that just won’t do”. In such a garden, the suburban home is staged as the main building and the garden is its natural setting. However, like its English landscaped counterpart, the modern-day garden is based on a clear delineation of the boundaries of the scenario. Private homeowners tend to clearly mark the edges of their plot with a fence or a hedge. The landowner likewise denoted the boundaries of the ornamental garden with stone walls, ditches and hedgerows although this form of demarcation did permit a view from the garden across the open fields. Nature was granted individual representation in these landscaped gardens but it was not by any means let loose. The English landscaped garden was to individualism and early democracy what French baroque parks were to absolute monarchy and totalitarianism.

The layout of Stourhead Park, England appears at first glance be quite complicated. The simple underlying principle is a series of buildings along a road that runs around a lake.
Stourhead Park in England and Frederiksberg Garden in Denmark are still good examples of the landscaped style of gardening, full of winding paths, copses and glades, ponds, little pavilions, and dark grottoes. This creates a carefully staged Arcadian landscape dominated by changing moods, spaces and vistas, all intended to provoke poetic experiences. The idea was to call forth individual emotions and promote sensitivity - within the predefined limits of the set, of course. This was a picturesque landscape but by no means a boundless one.

It was my intention that The Landscaped Path in Herlev would create a sequential experience through different suburban garden-spaces. I imagined the path as a simple dirt trail winding its way across lawns, through hedges, around vegetation, between flowerbeds. However, this walk turned out to be a dream on my part. It challenged a deeply rooted tenet of our society: private property. 26 enquiries to private homeowners resulted in 26 refusals, some featured explanations, most did not. The time is evidently not yet ripe for experimenting with a new social landscape and a new, diverse view of nature. The time is evidently not ripe for what I would call a communist landscape.

Karl Marx was another dreamer, who insisted that nature is human just as humans are a species-being in nature. He found that humanity, through capitalism, was engaged in rendering itself alien to nature - the stones, the leaves, the rivers - not only to sensual nature, but also to its own, human nature. Humans are rejecting nature, alienating themselves from it, in that it, in all its many forms, increasingly only exists for us as capital. We are in the process of rendering all things living inorganic and mineral. According to Marx, this mineralisation of nature, catalysed by humankind itself, finds its crystalline form in private property. It separates and parcels our lives and actions, wedges its way into our innermost being and blocks our senses from perceiving the inciting sum of possibilities offered to us by tangible reality:

“The supersession of private property is […] the complete emancipation of all human senses and attributes; but it is this emancipation precisely because these senses and attributes have become human, subjectively as well as objectively. The eye has become a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object, made by man for man.” (Karl Marx: Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

Jakob Jakobsen, August 2004


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