There are many strands to the situation which is unfolding in Syria. Primarily there is the human cost; lives lost, horrific injuries, families torn apart, violent and traumatic displacement, the uncertain plight of millions of refugees. There is also the decimation of the country and with it a rich cultural heritage stretching back thousands of years. The Damascus Courtyard Garden is an appropriate symbol of the devastation which has been wreaked upon a people, their identity, history and culture. Who knows, amidst all the carnage, if any of these gardens even remain? In this context the gardens serve as a metaphor for the plight of the Syrian people themselves. Who knows when they will be able to return to their homeland, and when they do what of it will be left for them? If and when this conflict reaches a conclusion what shreds of their lives and civilization will remain?
The source garden in Monasterevin is a functioning space which will provide the residents with an opportunity for tranquil reflection. That was the basis of the brief upon which it was conceived, designed and executed. However at Bloom there is a need to be more provocative in order to ensure the visitor engagement which is so pivotal to the overall objective of raising awareness, promoting involvement and emotional investment.
To this end, the Bloom garden will be based around the concept of a fault line which will run roughly diagonally from corner to corner. The fault line will delineate pre and post civil war Syria. A further thought was to utilize the chaharbagh or quadripartite structure so typical of gardens from this region and divide the space into four quadrants with each one signifying a period in Syrian history. Whilst it’s a good idea I fear it runs the risk of compromising the impact of the particular thing which I am trying to convey. The stark message of the fault line concept is the way to deliver the resonance which the situation necessitates.
From a design perspective it needs to be borne in mind that on the “post” side of the line we will be attempting to represent devastation within the confines of the garden setting rather than just recreating a generic idea of devastation. It needs to be two versions of the same scene, not just non- descript rubble and damage. The imagery will need to be uncompromising and the difference either side of the line stark without being gratuitously graphic. This will perhaps be the most challenging aspect of the execution.
Ambivalence characterized the official reaction to the refugee situation. The political messages were ambiguous and seemed to lack any clear appreciation of the scale of the crisis. Sections of the media adopted a staunchly intolerant position based on ignorance and misinformation which is not reflective of grass roots sentiment. The Irish people have a naturally profound sense of compassion when confronted with such human suffering. The garden and its attendant activities can capitalize upon that predisposition towards goodness to get a strong humanitarian message across.
What we as a collective sought to say in volunteering to do the source garden was that we recognize the horror of what you have been through, we sympathize sincerely with your many losses, we profoundly hope that sooner rather than later you can return to your homeland but in the meantime you are here, you are welcome and we hope your stay for however long it may be is as happy and as fruitful as it can be under the circumstances.
To my mind that sentiment can co- exist quite happily with the wider message which needs to be conveyed regarding ongoing work on the ground along the Syrian border and elsewhere.
The Bloom requirement is for two open or viewing sides. In order to amplify the effect the “pre” section, with its pleasing detail and planting, would be on the sides with the solid backdrop and the “post” section would sweep down to the viewing sides. As mentioned already, it will be important to accurately represent the “post” side as something which is recognizable as formerly being part of this setting rather than just installing features consistent with general urban devastation.
The emotional impact is contingent, to a large extent, on this aspect of the design being executed successfully and conveying the sense of catastrophic loss which we are seeking to underpin the whole endeavour.
Busy days ahead.