Encounter with Gilles Clément

Online
First broadcast 82 days ago

Encounter with Gilles Clément

23min
It is in an exceptional setting, La Vallée, Gilles Clément's garden in the Creuse, that the famous landscape gardener and Guilain Roussel discuss subjects that unite them and ​resonate with the themes of the exhibition, a reflection on the world that surrounds us and the way we care for and listen to our environment.
Throughout the preparation of Surface Horizon, Marguerite Humeau read numerous books and met with several botanists, biologists and landscape architects to enrich her thinking about the exhibition.

Attached to the innovative and committed voices and ideas of these environments, she became interested in the work of Gilles Clément, his writings on wastelands, third landscapes, and his vision of landscape.
She also met with Guilain Roussel, a landscape architect and former student of Gilles Clément, with whom she had long discussions during the conception of the exhibition.
Talk
Online
Thursday 08 Jul 2021
from 07 pm to 07:23 pm

La Vallée

With

Gilles Clément is a horticultural engineer, landscape designer, writer and gardener who teaches at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure du Paysage in Versailles.

In addition to his work as a designer of parks, gardens, public and private spaces, he is pursuing theoretical and practical work on the concepts of the moving garden, the planetary garden and the Third Landscape.

Guilain Roussel is a landscape gardener and artist. He has developed a hybrid practice between landscape, art and society, resulting in interventions of very varied nature. The margin, the disconsidered, the in-between, the economy of means are part of his work.

He is interested in time, sedimentation, the constitution of soils, human relations and living ecosystems in a broad spectrum vision. He develops projects based on the principles of attentive gardening and knowledge of the territories in which he works, but also around a practice of improvisation and adaptation to the context and the spontaneous.

He is the founder of the Poussières project in Aubervilliers, a local cultural space that seeks to create new links between inhabitants. He developed the Semeuse project with the Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrc at the Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers and the Jardin d'émerveille in the Parc départemental de la Poudrerie with the sculptor and director Vincent Vergone, an experimental garden for young children.

He is experimenting with film with the Indian activist choreographer Sangeeta Isvaran (Nyolo Tuki for the Nyishi tribal community of the Pakke Valley in India, 2020) and with the visual artist Agnès Prévost (Contes Terrachroniques for the PNR du Vexin Français, 2021).

He is a graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage de Versailles where he has been teaching regularly since 2015.

About

Transcript

Guilain Roussel

My name is Guilain Roussel. I am a landscape designer and in relation to the exhibition Surface Horizon by Marguerite Humeau and Jean-Marie Appriou we have been invited today to Gilles Clément’s home to talk about plants, botany, and commitment.

Gilles Clément 

I like this place because it’s a bank. A big oak tree fell during a storm here in 1999 or 2000. That turned over all the soil and it awakened the dormant seeds. And I didn’t know they were waiting. My job is to remove what might be in the way of those I want to keep. I call it gardening by subtraction, not weeding.

Guilain Roussel 

So Gilles, we’re in your garden in La Vallée. How would you introduce yourself, what do you call yourself today in 2021? A landscaper? A gardener? That’s a question you must have been asked quite a lot.

Gilles Clément 

Yes, I’m asked this question every time I have to speak. I always say more or less the same thing. That is to say, officially, I studied to be a landscape gardener, so that’s the right term, but I feel more like a gardener, because I have a garden, because I put my hands in the earth, but also because I favour the living, which is not at all the obligation of the landscape gardener, who can make a landscape with concrete, with different forms of architecture—that’s how it can be understood. I work more with living beings, which are plants and, if possible, animals—I like it when they join in. So, I say gardener. The gardener’s mission is also to make something that is easy to read, easy to interpret. They must intervene with an aesthetic determination. They can be an artist, not always, but... They are both a scientist, because they can determine the species, and an artist because they create a picture, even if it is not planned beforehand on a drawing board or a screen. Sometimes I also add that I’m a writer. Because that’s something else, that’s the power of words. It’s very much through teaching, as a teacher, that I came to choose words because the first books I wrote were for students. 

Guilain Roussel 

We have been invited to talk about Marguerite Humeau’s exhibition at the Lafayette Anticipations Foundation. One of the themes that Marguerite addressed was that it would be interesting to consider the time of plants as perhaps a foundation or an inspiration for a new model of society. It’s funny because obviously the time of plants is what we work on in our job and I was wondering if there was a time of plants or multiple times of plants. 

Gilles Clément 

In the vision that we have of the different behaviours of plants, which is a little distant and very anthropocentric, let’s say that there are short-cycle plants that live or appear for a very short time and then there are plants with very long cycles. There are five of these biological types. The shortest are the therophytes, the annuals, the bi-annuals, and the longest are the phanerophytes. The tallest, the most visible are the trees, which can be thousands of years old. Today there are Oregon pines that are several thousand years old. Annual plants deceive us about their lifespan because they appear for a short time, the time it takes to produce a seed. But once the seed is spread on the ground, we don’t know how long it will last there, live there, before it becomes visible for us again. It is tiny, it disappears into the earth. Some can last up to two or three thousand years, sometimes more. We don’t know anything about this, since we discovered Tutankhamen’s seeds, but anyway...  

Guilain Roussel 

From the tomb.

Gilles Clément 

Grasses that we germinated, not all of them, but it’s still incredible.

Guilain Roussel 

Yes, yes.

Gilles Clément

So that means that the lifespan of an organ like this one, which is like a cyst, which is fantastic, which doesn’t expend any energy and which can resist over time is extraordinary. So, what is time? It ends up not making much sense. We’re not in the measurement business as we know it with direct clicks, immediate responses on the computer, it’s not that at all. It depends on a whole context, what we call the ecosystem with its climate, soil, etc. We have to get used to that complexity, the diversity of exchanges between all these beings, to learn it. We can say to ourselves that if we want to speed things up we can perhaps react in such and such a way, but something is bound to happen in any case as we are in a living system. The gardener, I would say, does not come up against time, as we do in all the calculations of profitability, they accompany time. And that’s all.

Guilain Roussel 

And we intervene to work on balance, I think it’s always a question of balance: How do we intervene to choose what we want to favour or not?

Gilles Clément

The decision of intervention on the part of the gardener is something else. They may want to spend a lot of time in the garden or not very much, use a lot of machinery or not, or a lot of products—that’s the worst—or not, it’s the same thing. It’s really a choice, a choice of management but also of freedom left to the garden and to the species that are in place. There are no real rules for that. 

Guilain Roussel 

Do you have any favourite tools in the garden? 

Gilles Clément 

The pruning shears.

Guilain Roussel

The pruning shears, yes.

Gilles Clément 

They are always in my pocket. 

Guilain Roussel 

I have always thought that the places that were a little withdrawn were places of hope, because they are not focused on as much. In fact, they are often the most preserved places, because we they have more difficult land. This has sometimes saved places, or at least enabled them to reach the present day without being too degraded. I say to myself that these might be places of possible resistance and renewal.  

Gilles Clément 

Yes, with the possibility of ensuring a future for all. Land that is supposedly rich from an agricultural point of view is land that is poor in diversity…

Guilain Roussel

Absolutely, yes.

Gilles Clément 

…with very few species…

Guilain Roussel 

And even the soil, well, it’s catastrophic.

Gilles Clément

And the land is polluted. So, for the moment, the lands that have not been traumatized by all this pollution, because they have not been used much, because they are poor in fact, are rich in diversity. That’s true everywhere, not only in acidic soils like those of the Creuse, where we’re on a very poor Hercynian massif. It’s the same in the Causses or in other places. That is the situation we’re in. If we say that, since we depend on this diversity, the future must be represented by the maximum possible number of living beings—non-human beings—on the planet, then the lands that are said to be poor from an agricultural point of view could become the richest lands.

Guilain Roussel 

You just have to flip the way you look at it. Without someone thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to make use of the diversity here.’

Gilles Clément 

The problem, when you have changed these values, is giving them a price. That’s horrible, because it enters the market and speculation. Does this mean that the square metre in the Creuse will be listed on Wall Street? That’s rotten. It’s the destruction of everything. The money game—because it’s just a game—is terrible. It’s what kills.  

Guilain Roussel 

Were you considered new when you arrived here in the Vallée?

Gilles Clément 

No, because when I arrived, I was two years old, it was only one kilometre from here. My parents moved into a house by the lake. It was an old barn. And I quickly came for a walk. I was so amazed by the entomological world that I started to look at how it worked. I arrived in this valley thanks to the farmers. Because we knew each other: I kept sheep, goats, and cows with them, there was always a dog, we always talked. All of this, even on the slopes which have now become forests. Before it was grazing land, but there was no more grazing at all from the 1960s onwards. This is what I call the inversion of the landscape. The slopes that were empty of trees have become forests, while the more convenient places have been opened up—it’s the consolidation of the land. There are no more trees, but fortunately, the total wooded biomass has not decreased. It is even higher than the estimates from a century ago. We don’t talk about that much, but it is fortunate that the slopes have become forests. 

Guilain Roussel 

Do you consider the construction of your house as one of the founding acts of the creation of the garden?

Gilles Clément 

I had not planned the construction of the house at all. I just wanted a garden. I could have lived in a tree or in a burrow, but you need...

Guilain Roussel 

It’s less practical.

Gilles Clément 

It’s less practical and humans are complicated. You need comfort, well, anyway. So, I said to myself, okay, I need a house, since there isn’t one, I’ll build it, that’s all. 

Guilain Roussel 

It’s interesting because in the end you built a house by disrupting the elementary rules of architecture. The windows in corners: in the place where the house has to be the most solid, you put the most fragile places and said, ‘it works, it holds.’ In my opinion, this architecture has been designed to serve the garden in that sense. It is a way of looking at the garden, all the windows are different, the positions in relation to...

Gilles Clément

With a low sill, so that you can see the ground quite quickly. Because there are lots of animals that come in close. They are small, and if you have a high window you can’t see anything. So, yes, the house is part of the garden.

Guilain Roussel 

I went back to the École nationale supérieure du paysage not long ago. I saw that a giant hogweed had reappeared after having disappeared for several years. And I thought, ‘look, it’s back.’ There it was. They were there when I was a student, but they had disappeared. Was there a weed science section at the horticultural school or not?

Gilles Clément 

Yes. 

Guilain Roussel 

Yes, there was a weed science section.

Gilles Clément

Well, there wasn’t a weed science section, not with that official name. 

Guilain Roussel 

Wasn’t that its name?

Gilles Clément 

There have been books, treatises on weed science. Moreover, Montaigu, who was a marvellous botanist, wrote a fantastic book with that name because it was in the spirit of the times. It was really about hunting down, killing everything that was considered useless and that could harm the growth of the plants that one wanted to cultivate. Without having understood that everything serves a purpose and that each plant has its role in the ecosystem. In fact, there are no mauvaises herbes (literally, bad grasses).

Guilain Roussel 

Was it the study for the extermination?

Gilles Clément 

Yes, of course. It’s quite odd because this is a scholarly study and we were taught this science, so we learned a lot of things, but, given that it was only about plants that were to be killed, I stopped learning; there was no point because we were going to get rid of them. There is an ignorance that has been implanted in the brains of all those who claim to be close to nature and today, even those who make the lists of approved and prohibited plants know nothing about them! They have not understood what life, transformation, and evolution are all about. It's serious! But we had this teaching, which was very well done until the point when we were told how to get results, the management method, readjustment, yield and all that, and then it was catastrophic. That’s when we were taught to destroy everything. To kill.

Guilain Roussel 

Learning to kill?

Gilles Clément

Yes.

Guilain Roussel

I wondered if there were any philosophical writings that had inspired, or at least fuelled your thinking, that had left an impression on you.

Gilles Clément 

From philosophy, I’m not sure. But rather the work of anthropologists, scientists, researchers in the world of the living. I was very interested in the work of Laborit, whose Éloge de la fuite deals with animal behaviour, and today I’m interested in (Jean-) Baptiste Morizot. People like that. Of course, they have a philosophical side. But they speak to me more because they are based on observation.

Guilain Roussel 

Concrete.

Gilles Clément 

Concrete.

Guilain Roussel

Yes, of course. 

Gilles Clément 

I relate to that. So, it’s that or Henri Fabre, who wrote Les souvenirs entomologiques based on the study of the dung beetle. He followed a dung beetle—fortunately dung beetles go slowly—for kilometres and he made an absolutely fantastic book. Today, children in Japan have this book in their pocket.

Gilles Clément

For the first time, he talks about behaviour and not about classification. So that interests me. But are they philosophers?

Guilain Roussel 

That’s also a question of classification. Which section of the library you end up in.

Gilles Clément 

That’s true. Today, I really like the work of Philippe Descola. I think it’s wonderful. Beyond Nature and Culture is a basic book which allows you to see the world again from the point of view of cultural diversity, but it also helps you to get into the practice of everyday life. I’m interested in that.

Guilain Roussel

Yes, it’s important not to focus on writings that only deal with thought, with the mind.

Gilles Clément 

There are people who do this with great talent. Everyone talks about Gilles Deleuze, and others too. I’m not going to name them because there are plenty. And sometimes I come across sentences from these people’s writings and yes, I find them very beautiful and sometimes quite accurate, but I don’t live them as I do other things which are directly related to the field.

Guilain Roussel

Yes, I think that’s something we do through the practice of landscape. It’s really about ‘doing.’

Gilles Clément

Of course.

Guilain Roussel 

And besides, doing has led to thought. Did you ever think that your ideas had been misinterpreted?

Gilles Clément

I don’t know about that. It hasn’t really happened to me, although I’ve seen some gardens referred to as ‘gardens in motion’ when they weren’t.

What I found interesting was that there was this realization. This acceptance of something that was perceived as quite brutal. A brutal cultural change. And that seems to me to be a step towards something else, which is more liveable. Because wanting to maintain everything perfectly in an architecture in space when we are with living beings who never stop moving and transforming everything, is not very nice. It means that we don’t accept the living. 

Guilain Roussel 

As part of the Marguerite Humeau exhibition, we managed to grow thistles, Herb-Robert, and other plants in a greenhouse. That was one of the small joys of this project, to say to ourselves, we’re going to do something, that’s it. It was obviously done with the support of a teacher, who said yes, we’re going to do it, and we’re going to cultivate this. This will also challenge the students, who will ask, ‘Why are we cultivating this?’ 

Gilles Clément 

It’s very good that they question themselves because their parents don’t. But when they become aware of this, they become the teachers, you know. They are the cross-bred bear cubs.

Guilain Roussel 

The cross-bred cubs?

Gilles Clément

Those who are born in a context in which they discover everything when in the end it is about moving, eating, living.

Guilain Roussel

So, it’s the polar bears who meet...?

Gilles Clément 

Yes, yes. It’s climate change: polar bears and grizzly bears meet and make babies. Baptiste Morizot explains this all very well. The cubs, well, they’re fine, they’re here, but the parents have suffered, they’re still stressed. They question themselves, in a way. The kids don’t. They teach their parents how to live.

Guilain Roussel 

How to adapt?

Gilles Clément 

Yes. Today we see that most young people are aware of this. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t like that at all. They are the ones saying, we must stop, we must change. Whereas the parents don’t fully agree.

Guilain Roussel

Finally, with Marguerite Humeau’s project, it’s interesting to see that there are areas of interest that we have as landscape designers that are gradually coming into places of expression and also of exhibition and presentation to the public. It’s interesting to see that there are people who are asking the question of the role of plants in the future of humanity. 

Gilles Clément

That is very interesting, but the answer is obvious. If you compare the plant world and all other living things, mostly the animal world, the plant world does very well, much more easily. I am leaning against a plant that is all green. The colour green is not insignificant. That’s photosynthesis. Using this system, the plant makes its own food using solar energy. Well, it needs the sun...

Guilain Roussel

It’s pretty amazing technology. 

Gilles Clément 

It’s an incredible technology, it’s very advanced and it’s been around long enough and is going to last until the sun disappears in the solar system we’re in. Because there are other suns. So, plants are stronger than animals. Animals don’t have this system. They have to go and look for their food. This is called predation. We are predators. We humans. We depend on this plant and animal diversity, everything that makes it possible for us to live. We should realize that we really to rub it the right way and make sure that it doesn’t disappear because we depend on it. That is not the case for plants. They can withstand anything.

Guilain Roussel

Gilles, thank you very much for taking the time for this conversation. Thank you.

Gilles Clément

Thank you for coming here, to the remote Creuse.