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The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

By Bente Scavenius

Space, colours, light, and sound, together, form the viewer’s first impression of Maria Dubin’s The Secret Garden. In collaboration with, among others, composer Frederik Magle, Maria Dubin has created The Secret Garden as a total installation for the Department of Radiation Therapy at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. Already at the department’s entranceway, the garden theme is ushered in with The Winter Rose Quartet, a work that bids you welcome with four expressive and spontaneously painted flower paintings printed on glass. Taken together, the paintings strike up an atmosphere of beauty and harmony. The interplay of colors emanating from the flowers recurs in the stairwell, which leads down into the basement of the Department of Radiation Therapy.

Surrounded by brilliant green, yellow and blue colors on the walls as well as on the steps, one glides down along a spiral staircase that eventually encircles, at its bottom, a wreath surrounding a winter rose in full bloom, which is embedded in the floor. Set up at the foot of the spiral staircase is a small waiting room, with a green overlayed floor and two 1950s padded armchairs with green upholstery that spontaneously feel quite pleasant to sit down onto, and all the more so because composer Frederik Magle has created a piece of music that fills the room with a comforting ambience.

In much the same way that in a romantic garden, trickling water can give rise to a form of underlying music, an ambience of tranquility is brought forth by listening to Frederik Magle’s composition, which can give flight to pleasant thoughts for moments of repose and reflection. From the vantage point of sitting in the comfortable armchairs, it’s possible not only to listen to the music in order to attune one’s mind but also possible to watch the very sensuous film, Woman in Red – The Secret Garden, which is being projected onto the wall. This is a lovely film, which takes shape as a collage subsuming the garden motif as well as the music.

Throughout the whole of her total installation, Maria Dubin has made use of the color green to strike up the garden theme, which extends beyond the place’s many square meters of floorage. In a purely symbolic sense, the color green is the color of hope. It has always been so since the days of antiquity. For the ancient Greeks and the Romans, evergreen plants like cypress, myrtle, ivy and bay trees symbolized eternal life, pure and simply. The word ‘green’ has an etymology that’s connected with the etymology of the word, ‘to grow’; quite simply, green signifies the growing, the living, growth, indeed, all that is life. In addition, the green color symbolizes thawing, springtime, vegetation and accordingly the renewal of all things. Where there is life, there is hope, as the saying goes. Accordingly, green must have been, more than anything else, the color of hope.

The fact that green is the springtime’s hue has also led to the color being associated with renewal and with everything that grows, and consequently with the garden and with budding plants and crops. And this is also how Maria Dubin has been envisioning her site-specific work would be perceived and interpreted.

Solely stepping out onto the green linoleum floor that has been laid out across large areas of the Department of Radiation Therapy feels like stepping onto a fresh, green lawn. The illusion of a garden is, moreover, being further emphasized by the artworks on the walls in the corridor on the left, where ten small paper artworks in bas-relief, with the collective title, The Spanish Garden, are hanging. Directly opposite to these also hangs the model for the winter rose from the floor decoration in the stairwell. Very close to the reception area, there are also four oil paintings that can be seen, which similarly have the winter rose as their motif. In the neighboring waiting room, which is surrounded by columns, four textile paintings with the title, Tactile Metamorphosis, have been placed.

All the way at the bottom, inside the waiting room, an area designated for resting has been arranged in a coloristically finely-tuned universe with walls in delicate violet blue, with a sun that is shining from the wall and with a blue circle laid down into the green floor, which is illuminated as if it were a forest lake. The room has been furnished with reupholstered green armchairs that are standing up against a warm yellow, illuminated glass wall. Each of the chairs is surrounded by a high screen, which functions as an intimate, shielding protector for those individuals who would rather not be disturbed. The inner sides of the screens have been carved in linoleum, in a scale of green, blue and red hues. The screens are movable so that they can be positioned and re-positioned wherever in the waiting room there might be a need for them to be. In all its simplicity, Maria Dubin’s screens can be interpreted as small, secret, closed gardens, where there is room for each visiting individual to become immersed in contemplation and concentration.

But that which, more than anything else, elicits the impression of a garden layout is the colonnade that runs like a small avenue down through the large waiting room. The columns have been primed and painted with a green quartz paint that has been specially prepared in several hues and has been illuminated irregularly in order to elicit the impression that what we have here is pure nature. The first impression of the green row of columns that splits up the room immediately triggers associations to a Spanish garden, with its hedges and avenues. What comes to mind here is The Generalife, the Moorish garden situated in connection with the Alhambra in Andalusia. The Generalife, in fact, is laid out with series of large and small garden spaces, which are separated by green hedges. With sounds of trickling water in its channels and fountains, and with its lights and scents, this Spanish garden is unadulterated solace for the soul. It’s no wonder that it is precisely the Spanish garden that has inspired Maria Dubin in conceiving and creating The Secret Garden, which fosters, in all its manner of staging, a mood of tranquility and harmony.

Translated by Dan A. Marmorstein