I grow ever more annoyed with Timothy Luke’s chapter on botanical gardens. I had originally written a post about his treatment of the Holocaust museums, but I decided (after our class discussion) that his thoughts about the gardens particularly bothered me. He argues that “they are historically variable constructs that serve the cultural needs of variously evolving museum institutions and their audiences.” (p.126) This I agree with. Botanical Gardens are variable depending on when they were established and how they were curated over time, and they do serve cultural needs. Where I start to have one of those “eyebrow raising” moments comes when he starts going into the first/second nature arguments, and says “a spectatular image image of nature is fabricated,” and “rare plants can be cast as…an always abundant nature in artifice.” (127)
My problems with these statements come from the fact that it seems that Luke is leaving out something quite important to any cultural institution– the Mission Statement. Any institution with a mission statement is going to be working within it (if it isn’t, there’s other issues that need to be addressed.). He seems to believe that if someone wants to see nature, they should just go into the thick of things and see real nature. That, however, isn’t the mission of these gardens. Some places have a mission that only includes local flora. Other places, like so many Japanese gardens, is to promote well-being and ethnic understanding.
Luke seems to only present one side of the story when it comes to these locations. He doesn’t take into account that the whole goal of many of these cultural places is to transport someone to a different place and/or time, which would be impossible to do without the proper tools. While he seems to enjoy looking at museums, he is severely limited by his exclusion of evidence that doesn’t seem to fit into his highly critical and political scope.