Isabelle Guillauic, “The Artistic Influence when creating urban forests today”

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Isabelle Guillauic is an Architect and gardener. Her ongoing doctorate dissertation is on “urban forests”, in the Social Sciences department at École des hautes études (EHESS), at Paris, France. Art and Language at Centre de Recherche (CRAL). Équipe Fonctions imaginaires et sociales (EFISAL) ; under Jacques Leenhardt.


Summary Résumé
My research is based on the hypothesis of how art influences the development of urban strategies, aiming to instill more nature into urban areas.  In this context art has a twofold purpose : it enriches the thoughts on the quality of public space and introduces new urban projects, resulting in  widespread public knowledge.  The novelty of this use of art in urban strategies is to promote urban forestry which is currently at the experimental stage. Mes recherches travaillent l’hypothèse de l’action de l’art sur l’élaboration de stratégies urbaines visant à insuffler plus de nature dans la ville. Dans ce contexte l’art acquiert une double fonction : il enrichit la réflexion sur la qualité des espaces publics et porte les nouveaux projets urbains qui en découlent à la connaissance du grand public. L’inédit de cette action concerne le développement de logiques forestières urbaines qui sont encore à un stade plus ou moins expérimental.


The aesthetic influence on how we perceive our environment is nothing new. We could even say that all of our perception is charged with a residual magnetism remaining after the appearance of the  induction field  which created it.  There are multiple induction fields  that feed this cultural magnetism.  The one that interests us is aesthetics.

My presentation can be divided into two parts. The first refers to the term «artialisation» put forward by Alain Roger. The second part starts from the opening of the disciplinary field of art history to the study of  «urban forests» of today.

The reconciliation of art and urban ecology brings up a fundamental topic which my presentation questions :  – What is «the urban forest»? First of all I will give you a very simple answer that we can debate together: the urban forest is a construction.

The 1st part

Let’s first look at the meaning of the word «Artialisation»

Art is the inductor field of our perception of the forest, by an operation that Alain Roger has taken from Montaigne, «artialisation». Whether it intervenes directly on the natural foundation, in situ – it is the gardeners work, the landscapers, Land Art….- or  it operates indirectly, in visu through painters, writers, photographers…

Isn’t it interesting that the different landscapes that meet the eye ; the countryside, desert or the jungle, all seem strangely familiar ? This, despite the fact that we may never have been there before.  To sum up these findings, it implies that our ‘look’ is far from naïve, but passes through a series of «filters» or «interpretations» which communicate and interact amongst themselves.  Furthermore, the modernization of the meaning of symbols often proceeds through art, which, according to Lévi Strauss, ‘constitutes the  climax of culture taking possession of  nature , which is the very type of phenomenum that   ethnologists study’

To conclude this first part, Alain Roger asked himself if « instead of «landscape», wouldn’t it be better to merge «landart» into one word, thus underlining the origin and the artistic dimension of all landscapes (or «landart»), as artialised countries, in situ or in visu» .

This an uppermost interesting question.  That is why we illustrate it by a work of Land art called Time Landscape NYC.


Location: New York City Commissioned by Department of Transportation
Size: 40 x 250 x 45 ft.


The first Land Art creation of Alan Sonfist; this oasis of growth in the midst of the metropolis, places the ancient indigenous plant species of New York in the modern landscape of the urban island. Conceived in 1965 the Time Landscape was among the first prominent art works in the Land Art movement and functions today as inspiration to create Natural urban landscapes.

This small forest is ‘a natural environment’ which makes sense in the city, in which it has lived hidden from the living a long time.  As a consequence I maintain that all forests of this kind are virtually consubstantial to the urban genre.


2nd Part

Time Landscape is an open work of art which pushes our thoughts to its limits. Throughout my research I have had the pleasure of discovering a small urban forest planted on the road that runs through the city of Arcueil to the entrance of Paris.


The situation of this forest is relatively similar to the Alan Sonfist Time Landscape, because it claims a place in the city traditionally reserved for art.  Moreover, the mayor of Arceuil, Daniel Breuiller, had always wanted to install a monumental architecture, but when the landscaper in charge of the arrangement of the intersection proposed to plant trees, the idea was accepted by everyone. This underlines the influence of ecology on urbanism today.

The landscaper in charge of the intersection is called O.Philippe, a co-founder of the TER agency in Paris.  The trees that you can observe are Metaseqouias.  « Meta » meaning that these trees are close to Sequoias (from the Taxodiaceae family), without corresponding on all points of the criteria of the species.  From a phenomenological outlook, the “meta” in metasequoia alludes to another “meta” in metamorphosis, or to the forest metaphysics that gives art an opening. So the master stroke is mainly due to the way that O.Philippe has planted these trees giving a real feeling of a reconstructed forest.  43 tall trees give a real feeling of stability, contrary to isolated trees planted on a lawn, like objects.  Finally the gardener’s imagination has been influenced by the black-cow story, after which the intersection is named.  We have to go back to the time of steam engines, the time of Zola, the time when Les Halles in Paris supplied fresh products ; meat, milk, cheese, fruit and vegetables.  The story says that the animal stopped a train with merchandise by lying down on the railway tracks, which ran through the crossroad, which since then bears its name.  There is another story where the black-cow is the steam engine itself, coal-black.  Philippe claims that the main reason for creating the forest, was to shelter the the mythic black cow.  The reminder of the black cow doesn’t stop here.  Its image is projected on a curtain of water droplets hidden in the forest.  The appearance of the black cow is random, just like ghosts.


So I will finish this short presentation by submitting a couple of questions

-Given the Time Landscape of New York City, isn’t any group of trees in the centre of a city likely to be a work of art?

-On the contrary, a group of trees in a city, let’s say about forty, can they reproduce the idea of a forest in the eyes of a citizen?

-Finally, isn’t the urban forest in Arcueil, designed by Olivier Philippe, also the occasion to modernize the myths, on which cities have based their identities?