Winter-Spring 2016/2017 : ‘It was a dark and stormy night’
This new iteration of Heterotopia West takes its cue from a much-maligned sentence of the Victorian gothic novel, its origins forgotten but reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Polidori’s The Vampyre.
For Heterotopia West’s autumn/winter intervention, artist Adrian Barron converted the flower bed into a compost heap with viewing panels: once the leaves are down and the current plants are taken out, a compost box with a viewing window was installed, and the plant material is placed inside it. The bacteria and fungi found naturally on plant matter go to work turning these materials into basic building blocks for future flora.
By piling it all up, a good gardener takes control of the dark, sinister process of the microscopic life within the compost heap as it transforms and changes garden waste into new life; a Perspex viewing window in the compost box means layers of the compost heap can be read to understand its needs; adding either wet or dry material. Extra nitrogen in the form of manure (many an old gardener swears that urinating on it helps in the same way). The compost heap must not be compacted, or anaerobic processes will occur; with its smells of sulphur it is closer to putrefaction. Air it by turning it regularly as needs require. The gardener can pinpoint its future use: for alkaline loving veg, lime can be added; if left to its own devices it will be naturally acidic (a good mulch for acid loving shrubs). Bacteria and fungi are organisms and heat is generated from their bodies as they feed and multiply. The bigger the heap, the more heat emitted and the faster the reaction, turning garden waste into rich exotic soil.
The composter must read nature and control it, the heap is now a living organism. Push your hand deep inside it on a cold and frosty morning, feel its heat, pull your hand out and see its warm breath rise up out of the gaping hole you have made. The gardener has become Dr. Frankenstein. The compost heap is the back yard corporeal monster.