Michel Conan

Landscape Metaphors and Metamorphosis of Time
Michel Conan

This presentation will argue that memory is a prerequisite to any experience of motion, and that some features of garden design may lead visitors to establish a parallel between the memories of their discovery of a garden and the unfolding of a specific narrative strongly associated with the garden. These landscape design figures can be infinitely reinterpreted in different cultural contexts and design styles. I shall call these particular figures of landscape design “landscape metaphors.” They invite an interpretation by visitors to a garden that displaces the meaning of their own motion toward a new meaning. A study of several examples, culled from the Villa d’Este, the Labyrinth at Versailles, and Sacro-Monti, will show how the motion through these gardens leads the visitors to experience a transformation of their own selves, and of their horizon of temporality. This suggests that landscape metaphors provide garden designers with the extraordinary power to introduce visitors to an ontological transformation of time. The presentation of a contemporary French vernacular garden will allow us to move one step further in a discussion of the poetic use of a landscape metaphor to produce a metamorphosis of time.

Michel Conan is a sociologist. His research has focused on processes of architectural design, on evaluation of public programs, and on the cultural history of garden design. He was instrumental in stimulating a renewal of garden history in France, beginning in the mid-1970s with the publication of several reprints, with a postface, of works by Salomon de Caus, 1620; Andre Mollet, 1651; Charles Perrault, 1677; William Gilpin, 1799; and Rene Louis Girardin, 1777. He has been an active contributor to journals, edited volumes, and symposia and recently published the Dictionnaire Historique de L’Art des Jardins (1997) and L’Invention des Lieux (1997), edited Perspectives on Garden Histories (1999), and contributed to the catalogue for the exhibition The Triumph of the Baroque: Architecture in Europe, 1600-1750 at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. (2000). He is presently director of Studies in Landscape Architecture at Dumbarton Oaks.


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