The Garden behind the City / Meital Katz-Minerbo

According to traditional English Horticulture, public gardens are planned with a sense of love and connection to nature, the result of thought and aesthetic sensibility. When planning a garden, one must consider the visitors passing through with the aim of guiding their movement through the site. A walk through a garden is characterized by its trails, with potential deviation into the thicket. The movement through a public garden sketches imaginary lines (like stitching), connecting places. The public garden is a passageway, a connective place, and the stops within it are always temporary. In such gardens, “nature” is designed to grow and create hidden spaces in which citizens can find refuge, even from the eyes of the authorities. The public garden is a playground, a place for conversation, for intimacy and escape.

There is a public garden behind my house. A park that was created to hide what was there before, it does not stand up to the criteria of English Horticulture.  It was not planned to be a garden. On the contrary, it was an empty lot, in between things, a space waiting to be filled. At the same time, it still meets some of the characteristics of traditional gardens. This garden, neglected for many years, functions as my backyard, the backyard of my neighborhood, and of the entire city. It is a backyard that has two sides: one during daytime, quite different from the one at night. But no matter when, Park HaHorshot is a liminal space with the potential for unconventional encounters and unexpected situations.

Things one sees while wandering.

I did not know what a ‘Nomadic kindergarten’ was until early one morning, during my usual walk, I noticed a group of toddlers and nursery-school children playing together on mats, running, and breathing fresh air. Accompanied by their nursery school teachers, they spend their whole day outside, even in the winter. Nearby, at the top of the hill, a foal rubbed its back against the newly grown grass and smiled at the wintry sun. He belongs to the people whose house is located in the center of the park. They were there before, when the garden was still an abandoned orchard at the edge of the city and maybe even before then. For most visitors, their stay in the park is only temporary, but there are those who have lived there since the establishment of the state of Israel, and those who came from distant lands to find a place to hide away, among the plants. I once met a boy and his mother for whom the park was a place of refuge, taking them in after their long journey from a hostile country. They lived in the park for a few months. When I think of them, I feel concern — how can you spend night after night in that place? I can only guess what might havehappened in the park the night before. The remains and clues that I identify in the morning include: ash from a hookah, used condoms, small bonfires and even a woman who fell asleep on the playground slide after taking hard drugs. On hot summer nights, African refugees sleep on the soft grass, maybe for lack of choice, or maybe as a desperate attempt to connect to a past that will not return.

Roaming in public gardens resonates with the trajectory of life: the movement from one encounter to the next creates personal stories. In the short film by Alexis Bistikas (1964-1995), the camera wanders in daylight through a London public garden in the early 1990s while a saxophone plays in the background. It glances around, exposing momentary encounters with people, as if the camera itself were a voyeuristic passerby: clandestine encounters of forbidden passion, kissing and blowjobs behind the wild vegetation, subversive conversations, a child biting an apple, an insatiable search, cruising. The wandering ends when the camera meets the hollow gaze of the artist, film director and gardener Derek Jarman (a few months before his death) standing beside the saxophone player, the source of the sound that string along with the movement and the narrative of the film; a metaphor for the pied piper of Hamelin, leading the children and the rats out of the city, into the woods, into nature.


The Clearing, curtametragem de Alexis Bistikas, com Derek Jarman, 1993, 7′

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Meital Katz-Minerbo contributed two of her works to the “Abu Kabir” issue.

One piece, “The Cactus Man,” is an image from a collaborative work where artists receive the map of the city of Tel Aviv to embroider a section of their choosing.

“The Cactus Man” is based on a charcoal drawing by the same name from 1881 by the symbolist artist Odilon Redon, telling us about the yearning for simplicity alongside a fear of retreating into primitivity.

Katz-Minerbo’s second work shown in this issue was originally created for her solo show “The Sensitive Plant” (‘Hatzemach HaRegish’), exhibited at the Jerusalem Artists’ House in 2016. The work was created as a fashion editorial taken at Park HaHorshot as part of the fanzine distributed in the exhibition. The project questions sex and gender through botany. Katz-Minerbo’s research centers on The Victorian Garden, a matter of interest for both scientists and amateurs — a leisure occupation for botany lovers, but simultaneously the garden becomes a space of classification/categorization and control which reflects the power of the “empire”. The name of the piece “The Sensitive Plant” comes from a poem of the same name. Written in 1820 by the Romantic poet Percy Shelley, it describes a love affair between a plant and a woman. “The Sensitive Plant” project also seems to echo “The Cactus Man.” By mixing disciplines (fashion, botany, performance, and photography), Katz-Minerbo plants a dubious, anonymous, genderless figure in the thick of her back yard, or Park HaHorshot. The figure — planted like the trees — looks at times as ancient and inanimate and in other moments organic, vivid.

Translated by Zoe Jordan