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Stephen Bann

Sensing the Stones: Bernard Lassus and the Ground of
Landscape Design
Stephen Bann

In this paper I seek to illustrate the experience of motion in the work of a contemporary garden designer by comparison with a selection of early landscape paintings, in particular those of Goffredo Wals, dating from the early seventeenth century. It will be argued that works like those of Wals offer us a condensation of motifs suggesting the physical experience of motion through the landscape. In particular they imply an enhanced attention to the ground beneath the notional walker’s feet, and in this way conflict with the infinite prospects of sky and scenery that will later become the legacy of the Claudian landscape.

It will be argued that the gardens of Bernard Lassus devote a similar attention to the operations of the walker. In the “Garden of Returns” at Rochefort-sur-Mer, on the Charente River, he varies the experience of walking by constructing parallel paths, whose surfaces are adjusted to different perambulatory modes and directions. He also relates the cobbled areas around the central building to a lightly raised stretch of turf, implying a chronological relationship between the garden and its historic site. Instead of attempting a “classic” French solution, where the visibility of the Corderie royale from afar would have been the most prominent feature, Lassus has half hidden the monument, adjusting the garden’s dynamic axes to a walking pace.

In the second example of Lassus’ contemporary work, attention is given to the motorway rest area (Aire) at Crazannes, on the new Autoroute des Oiseaux between Rochefort and Saintes. Here the experience of motion is radically split between the experience of the speeding car passengers and the travelers who decide to turn off the motorway for a few minutes of relaxation. The transformed landscape reflects these two widely differing perspectives, offering a sharp visual contrast between the rocky escarpments carved out of the former quarry of Crazannes and the deep gullies crowded with rare ferns that the visitor is tempted to investigate. For the first time in landscape practice, perhaps, two such widely varying tempos have been united in the “double face” of a singular environment.

Stephen Bann was educated at Winchester College and King’s College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a Double First in the History Tripos (1962-63) and subsequently took his Ph.D. with a thesis on the French historian Prosper De Barante. Appointed lecturer in history at the University of Kent in 1967, he became in 1988 professor of modern cultural studies and in 1990 director of the Centre of Modern Cultural Studies. Bann has also been chair of the Board of Studies in history and theory of art at Kent since 1985. In 2000 he will take up a new appointment as professor of history of art at Bristol University. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1998 and is currently chair of the Research Committee of the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Board.

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