Stéphanie Nava

Via Farini - Documentation Center for Visual Arts (DOCVA)

Stéphanie Nava’s “Considering a Plot (Dig for Victory)” was a garden of innumerable drawings and various agricultural objects. There were no flowers pictured, only vegetables, since the artist was inspired by the small urban gardens promoted in the 1940s in England by the “Dig for Victory” campaign to combat wartime food shortages. The artist’s imaginary garden invaded the entire room and was delimited by wooden barriers and, in some stretches, by thin cords; within these enclosures, drawings faithfully reproduced many varieties of vegetables. Some of these sheets progressed in a slight curve, creating a sort of wave, evoking planted rows and the movement of the earth tilled to receive seeds. Others were hung on the wall and unrolled to the floor. Four brick structures created an elevation above ground level and were covered with large works on paper bearing figures of plants and agricultural tools.

Real tools were also distributed here and there: A wheelbarrow was filled with rolls of white paper; cut-up pieces of paper emerged from a container meant for dry leaves. Nava’s vegetable garden grew through meticulous draftsmanship, as detailed images depicted her crops in various stages of growth: Carrots, potatoes, cabbages, turnips, celery, lettuce, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, and more were shown. Sometimes we saw sprouts emerging out of the earth, sometimes roots hidden belowground. The controlled disorganization of the setting, with manically precise renderings scattered about so casually, gave these realist figures another, abstract character. In this imaginary space, organic growth goes hand in hand with the struggle for life. In fact, in Nava’s world, organic growth and social struggle are aligned: Plants invade, migrate, are attacked by parasites, and may be eradicated. This assonance even appears in the show’s title, “Considering a Plot (Dig for Victory),” where the double sense of plot (a piece of land, but also a conspiracy) brings us from the idea of a field to be planted to that of a field of struggle. This is no Garden of Eden, but rather an environment where nature is a series of images to be copied onto a sheet of paper, vegetable by vegetable, as if being catalogued to preserve their memory. It is an archive that asks: How can technological production be reconciled with ecological and social equilibrium? Nava’s drawings make visible the need to reconsider this relationship. We cannot renounce technological development, but neither can we fail to search for a new equilibrium in order to cultivate a space in and of itself—both material and symbolic—imbued with a harmony between the outer and inner space of each of us. Nava’s garden can be interpreted as an imaginary space for a new urban collectivity. In this sense, the small greenhouse located at the conclusion of the exhibition and illuminated from within is emblematic; instead of containing a drawing of plants, it showed the shadow of a city skyline.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.