If You Have A Garden In Your Library

Participatory floral action, 2020.

Twenty-six floral arrangements were produced to accompany Nemer’s multi-chaptered audio project, I Don’t Know Where Paradise Is, which mediates encounters with objects found in the libraries, gardens, and homes of a series of loosely-interconnected gay scholars in Europe and Canada.

Each week, a member of Ottawa’s LGBTQ and Two Spirit community created a bouquet with local florist Kat Kosk, each in response to a selected chapter of the audio work. Nemer joined them with his own weekly arrangements, created in his studio at the Fondation Fiminco in Paris. The arrangements took inspiration from bookshelves, a feather duster, a urinal, clocks, an octagonal mirror, and other objects narrated in the individual audio chapters.

The Ottawa arrangements were displayed each week at the Carleton University Art Gallery in a solo exhibition curated by Heather Anderson. Photographs of the paired arrangements were circulated on social media and a dedicated page of the gallery’s website, which also featured the selected audio chapter.

Respondents Vincent Edet, Benny Michaud, Sam Loewen, Lydia Collins, Bill Brown, and John McKinven worked with Kat Kosk to interpret visual and affective cues from the audio chapters, often integrating non-botanical elements from their personal collections into the arrangements, including photographs, crystals, book pages, a cockring, a whip, and Tarot cards.

If You Have A Garden In Your Library emerged as a response to a series of limitations the 2020 pandemic placed on Nemer and Anderson’s original plans for the exhibition. This new serial, participatory approach activated the project in unexpected ways, loosening authorial control, and generating a series of interpretations and translations from different situated positions. In doing so, the queer kinship bonds the audio project seeks to foster was opened outwards, co-imagining queer futures through connections with queer pasts.

The audio project set out to pose specific questions about the nature of queer archives, however the floral actions that made up If You Have A Garden In Your Library seemed to also unexpectedly act upon the evershifting challenges of living through the pandemic. As curator Heather Anderson writes, the weekly arrangements became, “a poignant gesture amidst all the uncertainty, restrictions, anxiety; holding a space for the desire for normalcy, connection, and beauty. They marked and offered a conduit for an array of emotions from sorrow and grief, loneliness and depression, to joy and wonder and on and on.”

The project’s title is taken from a passage in one of the audio chapters, entitled A Ficus Drupacea Pubescens:  “The Ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote in a letter, Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil, which is often paraphrased as If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. But it translates literally as if you have a garden in your library, nothing will fail which seems to be an ancient clue to the question at hand, to the importance of overlapping gardens and libraries.”

Photos of the Ottawa arrangements and project documentation by Jason Laguerre and Olivia Johnston