The most beautiful garden is the one closest to the neglected ones.
Gerhard Pötzsch, Taschentuchdiele
Schrebergärten or allotment gardens are known to be small communal gardens that began to appear in the industrialized cities of Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century. Their name varies from one region to another. In Austria and Germany, they are known as Schrebergärten after the surname of their creator, Dr. Moritz Schreber (Germany, 1808). He was the one who conceived and implemented the first of these gardens, although their popularity and dissemination would take place after his death.
Dr. Schreber was a physician, educator, and teacher who devoted much of his research to children’s health and the impact that industrialization might have over it. Above all, he focused on the education of an ideal citizenry by means of the physical and psychic manipulation of children, which would guarantee a future of “dominant adults able to be controlled,” a “battalion of obedient youngsters.” The two main pillars of his educational system were gymnastics and orthopedics on the one hand, and on the other, as a complement, direct contact with nature through sowing of small plots, something that would keep them occupied and under surveillance at the same time. Schrebergärten pay tribute to the ideas that engendered them: they are presented as places for the recreation of infants, spaces where they can have contact with nature and at the same time be monitored by their parents.
Although the first association dedicated to allotment gardens appeared three years after Dr. Schreber’s death, the gardens still maintain the strict regulation, conservatism, and violence of his educational system. Nowadays, Schrebergärten are served mainly by people living in the city who do not have a garden at home. The land does not belong to them and various associations enforce a strict compliance with a long list of rules ranging from which seeds are to be planted, the maximum size of growth, percentage of land that must be dedicated to vegetables, and the construction of a scale model house – not bigger than twelve square meters and that cannot be inhabited under any circumstances—and even the size of the plot that should be occupied for such purposes.
Dr. Schreber also wrote a series of books and manuals that contained designs for orthopedic apparatuses as well as gymnastic routines. The use of the former and the fulfillment of the latter would produce the future utopian citizen. Thus, intervening in posture through the use of apparatuses and exercises, some of them resembling torture, would render correct habits that would shape the child into the expected adult, dominant yet obedient. Schreber designed, Michel Foucault might say, a sort of social orthopedics.
This project aims to confront the viewer with the fascism, violence, and rigidity of Schreber’s educational systems through landscapes of hyper-controlled beauty rendered by those gardens that bear his name even today. In order to achieve this, I fabricated and photographed the orthopedic apparatuses in use. I juxtapose these images with the terrifying designs of the apparatuses and gymnastic exercises taken from the manuals that continue to be published, and photographs that show the ideal perfection of Schrebergärten, stiff and regulated. I include documents, diagrams, animations, drawings, and a series of medium format photographs in color of some Schrebergärten.
Paola Dávila was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1980. She earned her B.A. from the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico City in 2002.
She has had eight solo exhibitions since 2002 including: Casa de Cultura Azcapotzalco, México City (2002); Centro Fotográfico Álvarez Bravo, Oaxaca (2004); Galería Medellín 174, Mexico City (2010); Patricia Conde Galería, Mexico City (2016) and more than thirty group exhibitions in Mexico, the U.S., Poland, and China. She has been awarded two residencies through Mexico’s Foreign Residencies and Exchanges Grant Program and National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA). In 2009, she was an artist-in-residence at the Banff New Media Institute at the Banff Centre of Canada and in 2014, at the Land-Salzburg Künstlerhaus, Austria. A Tierney Family Foundation Fellowship to create new work allowed her to spend 2010 working on Interior Seasons, a study of water and its relation to time.
Paula Dávila is a three-time recipient of FONCA’s National Young Artists Grants and has received Arts Everywhere Grants from the Department of Culture of the Government of Mexico City twice. In 2002, she received the National Photography Award at the Visual Arts Biennial of Yucatan.