Ardine Nelson
2008 Guggenheim Fellow
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Green Spaces:  Small Garden Communities of Dresden, Germany

These images represent a body of work that explores the formal visual qualities of German Schrebergardens.  The images were made during 2004, 2006 and most recently during trips in Autumn 2008 and Winter and Spring 09. I have photographed not only the gardens but also interviewed and made portraits of the gardeners.  This project began as a formal visual exercise but has grown into a view of the social/political implications of the Kleingarten (small garden) communities.  
 
The garden communities are referred to as Kleingaerten (small gardens) or Schrebergaerten, so named for Dr. Schreber (1808 – 1861).  Dr. Schreber, concerned with the health of city children and adults strongly encouraged the setting aside of land to encourage physical activity.  The idea of gardening as a healthy activity with the bonus of increasing the family food supply was readily adopted.  During and between the world wars small allotment gardens were prevalent on both sides of the conflict and helped provide food.  Unlike the austere allotments in England the garden associations of eastern Germany are more elaborately built and supported with running water, electricity and at times a sewer system.
 
The current 352 garden associations in Dresden lease land from the government and in turn lease well clearly plots to the association gardeners.  The gardener may erect a small multiple room structure on the property.  This small building along with any permanent improvements to the property, including landscaping, are owned by the gardener and, should the family decides to leave the gardens, would be sold to the next gardener who will occupy the garden space. The garden association areas are located mainly in unimportant land areas of the city: along roadways, old dumping grounds, railroad tracks, or dried riverbeds.  I had made assumptions about the people of the garden communities that proved to be not entirely true.  Based on the comments of people in Dresden I spent time with on previous trips, I thought the gardens were strictly working class.  Through my interview process, I have learned that the gardens were indeed occupied by working class apartment dwellers but also engineers, professors, chemists, psychologists, people who had traveled the world (after the wall came down) but return to the gardens when in Dresden.  
 
The Schrebergardens have become small, gated communities, kept in the family at times over generations. During the week the most likely occupants are older retired people.  However, the gardens are actually inhabited by a cross section of the population and currently the fastest growing percentage of newcomers are young families. 
 
I learned of the very strict rules by which the associations must abide and how they manage, on average, to comply.  People erect multiple room structures in which they quietly stay overnight, breaking one of the rules.  The density of the vegetation often obscures the small garden buildings while evidence of the larger city may appear in the distance.  When I first saw a group of gardens and their small structures I thought they were squatter areas, that is, until I noticed electric lines and satellite dishes.  Some garden areas include public beer gardens where non-residents are welcome.  My most likely entrance to the gated communities had been through such public areas.  
 
The selection of images included here emphasize the view from the more public paths through the gardens.  Each garden is a private paradise defined by a gate.  Sometimes the fence is dense shrubbery blocking an outsider’s view.  At other times, the gate itself is the only delineation of where the garden begins.  Portrait images include text in both English and German which may be printed as part of the image or could become wall text for each image.
 
I am working with scanned film negatives or digital camera and making archival ink jet prints.  Final print size is approximately 26.5” x 40” (67 cm x 102 cm) framed 36”x48” (91 cm x 122 cm).  The smaller prints are 15.3”x23” (39 cm x 58 cm) framed 24”x30” (61 cm x 76 cm).  The body of work is currently comprised of 35 portraits and more than 75 garden images. 
 

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