Daniel Libeskind: Polderland Garden of Love and Fire (1997)

Polderland Garden of Love and Fire (1997), Daniel Libeskind. Foto: Jordi Huisman
Polderland Garden of Love and Fire (1997), Daniel Libeskind. Foto: Jordi Huisman

The artwork was severely damaged and has been removed by the municipality for reconstruction. It is expected to be replaced in Spring 2017.

Ambassador Martin Zebracki
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Five intersecting lines mark the landscape in Almere Pampus like a strange pictorial sign. Three narrow canals, a footpath and a strip of black gravel upon which is set a sculpture that consists of aluminium walls make up the Land Art project Polderland Garden of Love and Fire by architect Daniel Libeskind. One of the greatest Spanish mystics and poets, Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591) inspired Libeskind with his poem ‘The living flame of love’.

The lines of the Polderland Garden of Love and Fire connect people in different places and times. The three canals symbolize the imaginary connection between three cities: Salamanca, the city where Juan de la Cruz studied, Berlin, where Libeskind lived and worked at the time, and Almere, the place where the artwork is located.

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Ambassador Martin Zebracki

Martin Zebracki. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen
Martin Zebracki. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen

In his research, Martin Zebracki is interested in the perception of public space: from public art to cruising zone. Since Daniel Libeskind’s Garden of Love and Fire is both, he is keen to learn more about this work.

“My background is human geography, so everything related to the interaction between humans and space, and I’m particularly interested in art. One of my most interesting studies was my research on the controversial ‘Butt Plug Gnome’in Rotterdam. Everyone who encountered this work appears to have an opinion about it, which intrigues me enormously. In recent research, I focused on the Homomonument in Amsterdam: on how the material components of this work attain a visceral, deeper meaning. The monument especially unlocks emotions during LGBT remembrance days, when many people place flowers on the site. I find it captivating how sexual citizenship conjoins with the material dimensions of this monument. It also incorporates intimacy: peoples’very own identity and the place’s historical identity, life history and cultural ‘veins’. I discovered the Homomonument as compelling memorial site for examining ambiguous processes of coming together, openness and reticence, inclusion and exclusion.

Art in the city usually adapts to an existing context. What I found interesting about the Land Art project is that the city explores ways for adapting itself to existent artwork. This will inevitably be the case when the Garden of Love and Fire becomes a future city park of Almere Pampus. The context will then change drastically. For me, this artwork exhibits an avant-garde spirit. It’s daring and if you read about the background of Libeskind and his interest in deconstructive architecture, then the work also exposes its true intimate nature. This very much intrigues me. How has this artwork ended up precisely here and what kind of questions occupied Libeskind’s mind while designing it?

The uses of the artwork also hold me spellbound. This site is a cruising zone. This partly ensues from a combination of a peculiar material infrastructure and the anonymous character of the place. There seems to be a sort of structural force, but at the same time things feel coincidental. This raises the question why Libeskind wanted to realise a work in such an ambiguous, anonymous place. The more extant literature is read about the work, the more questions flash through the mind. One text states that the lines of this work point to Almere, Salamanca and Berlin, where Libeskind had his studio. On his website, Libeskind rather emphasises a connection between Saint John of the Cross in Salamanca, famous for his passionate poetry, and Paul Celan in Paris, a Jewish poet who wrote about his experience with the Holocaust. In so doing, Libeskind has aligned an anonymous place with his personal life history. You might say that he provides meaning to emptiness. And I think this poses a paradox. Libeskind must have felt something for this land, for this particular place. It would be interesting to find out more narratives on that.

History is somehow always written with a pencil. It’s inherent in research that you discover new things while searching. The Garden of Love and Fire truly calls for ‘re-search’. You can really talk it through for a long time. That’s why, to me, it embodies a successful ‘conversation piece’.”

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Polderland Garden of Love and Fire (1997), Daniel Libeskind. Foto: Vincent Wigbels
Polderland Garden of Love and Fire (1997), Daniel Libeskind. Foto: Vincent Wigbels

In Almere Pampus five intersecting lines lie in the landscape as the letter of a strange script. Three narrow canals, a strip of black gravel carrying a sculpture with aluminium walls, and a footpath form the Land Art project Polderland Garden of Love and Fire by architect Daniel Libeskind (Lodz, Poland, 1946).

One of the greatest Spanish mystics and poets, Juan de la Cruz (1542 - 1591) inspired Libeskind for his work in Almere with his poem The living flame of love. In Polderland Garden of Love and Fire the lines interconnect people in different places and times. The three canals symbolize the imaginary connection between three cities: Salamanca, the city where Juan de la Cruz studied, Berlin, where Libeskind lived and worked at the time, and Almere, the place where the artwork is located. The geometric pattern of Polderland Garden of Love and Fire ties in seamlessly with the man-made landscape of Flevoland that also merges nature, art and technology. (1) Lines play an important role in Libeskind's work. They not only function as a geometric shape, but also as a connection or, conversely, as a boundary. With his language of forms, Libeskind wants to give expression to the course of life and history and to the stories that are connected to a certain place.

The labyrinthine aluminium sculpture symbolises the journey of discovery made during man's life. Wandering throught this abstract and simplified labyrinth results in a confrontation with obstacles and moments of upsetting discomfort, whereas the next turn offers openness and is filled with possibilities. This sense of displacement also plays a role in Libeskind's personal life. Born in Poland, he emigrated to the United States and later also to Israel and Berlin. Cultural history, his personal past, but also the idea of the genius loci, are recurring themes in his work. He asked himself what Almere's genius loci is: the spirit of a place as it is engraved on our collective memory. (2) New town Almere has attached itself to the bottom of the former Zuiderzee not even forty years ago and through the emptiness in his work Libeskind signals Almere's lack of history and the uprooted state of the polderland's inhabitants. With Polderland Garden of Love and Fire Libeskind also creates a spiritual place in the polder as a symbol for new life: a meditation garden where one can reflect upon the interaction between landscape and built-up environment, nature and culture, and past and future. Currently, Polderland Garden of Love and Fire is still situated in the middle of the fields of the unbuilt Almere Pampus. When this southwestern part of Almere will be built on in the future, the artwork will, as an eyewithness to the past, be of a different significance to the urban landscape.

Before anything, Libeskind is an architecture theorist. He designed beautiful buildings with geometric and complex constructions but never realised them. The first architectonic design of the 'paper' architect that was executed was the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which was completed in 1999. The Land Art project Polderland Garden of Love and Fire dates back as far as 1997 and therefore takes in a special place in his oeuvre. Libeskind is considered to be one of the most imporant representatives of Deconstructivism in architecture, an approach that was initially represented by the French philosopher Jacqques Derrida (1930). Deconstructivism is an architectural movement to which also Rem Koolhaas, the architect of Almere's city centre, is considered to belong. According to Libeskind, the significance of architecture no longer is to create a built-up environment. He believes that all the new means of communication have made the city invisible and even unnecessary. Libeskind considered this state of displacement and unrootedness the current human condition. (3) The imagery of the Deconstructivists is geared to provide an answer to the question of what exactly architecture is essentially and what place it takes up in day-to-day reality. Using lines, inclined planes and angula forms, they try to express the complexity of daily life in architecture.

The Garden of Love and Fire on Studio Libeskind's website

Location: Pampushavenweg (between Oostvaardersdijk and Brikweg), Almere
Materials: aluminium, concrete, water, trees
Dimensions: 250 x 250 metres
Proprietor and maintenance: the Municipality of Almere
Landscape maintenance: Tomin Groep. The surrounding area is owned and maintained by Het Flevo-landschap.

A TED talk by Daniel Libeskind: 17 words of architectural inspiration:

Notes:
(1) Esther Agricola, Architectuur van de ontheemding. De Mysterieuze taal van Daniel Libeskind (Architecture of displacement. The mysterious language of Daniel Libeskind). p. 41, in: Antoinette Andriesse & Lia Gieling, (ed.), (1999), Landschapskunst in Almere (Land Art in Almere), Museum De Paviljoens.
(2) Esther Agricola, Architectuur van de ontheemding. De Mysterieuze taal van Daniel Libeskind (Architecture of displacement. The mysterious language of Daniel Libeskind). p. 42, in: Antoinette Andriesse & Lia Gieling, (ed.), (1999), Landschapskunst in Almere (Land Art in Almere), Museum De Paviljoens