Natalie Barney’s garden at 20 Rue Jacob
AN: Natalie Barney isn’t a particularly well-known figure, can you tell us something of who she was?
EF: Barney was a key figure in the literary and arts circles of the early-twentieth century. For over sixty years she hosted a literary salon at her home, on a Friday in Paris, where people would come together to talk about art, literature, poetry, or any topic of interest. For Lapping at Your Door, I began to look more specifically at the garden of Barney’s home and the part that this played in bringing people together.
AN: How did gardening and garden design come into your thinking while you were researching and preparing for LAYD?
EF: I was interested in Barney because I wanted to introduce elements of a garden space into Lapping at Your Door —gardening as a structure to loosen things up a bit. It’s tied up with my interest in exploring domestic/interior spaces while still feeling a connection with plants and nature—wanting to collapse the space between these two experiences. The work has a reference to the large windows in my living room that look out to our small courtyard garden. The windows are floor-to-ceiling, and help give the sense of pulling the garden into the room. The New Zealand landscape is so large and open, which I love, but I also find a sense of insecurity in such wide spaces. I wanted to make a work that looked to landscape in a domestic setting, in a way that mixed the senses and feelings of public and private, open and closed.
AN: ‘Garden design’ has some very manufactured connotations. Barney’s approach was something totally different that struck at some very different values. What is it about the way she cultivated this space that interests you?
EF: Yes, sometimes I feel like it’s just better to say ‘plants’ rather than go down a miscommunication over the word ‘garden design’. Barney’s use of plants was loose and messy, which I like as I think it allows for more of the many overlaps and relationships that happen in these spaces.
From the images I’ve seen, and what I’ve read, 20 Rue Jacob was full of objects, textures, colour, curves, hidden corners, food, poetry, conversation, and decadent aesthetics—all of which had an effect on the senses. To me, Barney treated the garden as an extension of these ideas. It wasn’t manicured or overly pruned, but encouraged to ramble and show its systems of growth. I like the idea that, in a garden, both decay and growth are given visibility. Barney’s garden also embodies a lot of things that Eileen Gray’s designs do—she introduces spaces and objects of varying heights and textures that force socialising to operate in new ways, opening up new connections and ways of movement.