Is your garden politically correct?
If it's out of control, it just might be.
Landscape architect Deborah Ryan, who thinks of gardens as enclosures and landscapes as extensions, believes prevailing attitudes toward control of nature and people have a lot to do with the treatment of both.
Ms. Ryan, assistant professor of architecture and adjunct professor of women's studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will lecture on "The Nature of Control: A Feminist Perspective of the Landscape" in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery at 2 p.m. April 2. She'll have some pictures to show you what she means.
"I don't know if men and women design differently," she said in a telephone interview. But she is convinced cultural perspectives account for a lot of variations.
"What intrigues me about the history of landscape design is how much it is tied up with a culture's attitudes toward people and nature." In many classical designs Ms. Ryan has detected "an incredible fear of the landscape and an incredible need to control it."
She added: "Most of the great gardens of history are really illustrations of man's need to control nature."
(The use of "man" is not generic. The roster of great landscape designers is predominantly male.)
Versailles is a case in point.
This highly structured, symmetrical and geometrical landscape begun in 1668 to reflect the Sun King's dazzling rays is, Ms. Ryan explains, an expression of the power that Louis XIV exerted over nature and his people. Emerging from a simple hunting lodge, the palace became the center of political power in France during his reign and later monarchs enhanced this monument to omnipotence.
Versailles' magnificence is an expression of its time and Ms. Ryan wonders why its design continues to be used over and over again today when "control of people and nature is not something that is necessarily accepted."
Ms. Ryan says the emergence of feminist art criticism and exposure to ecofeminism influenced her decision to switch from architecture to landscape architecture. She developed a feminist consciousness without being aware of it, she recalls, and began seeing an irresistible connection between landscaping and her feminist perspective.
"Landscape is a language of inclusion, connections and often architecture is about object making and exclusion," she explains. As she practices it, landscape building is inherently feminist, based in ecology and encompassing an inclusive vision of society.
Sociological changes are as important as technological advances. "The best landscapes and buildings are products of the time in which they are built," Ms. Ryan explains. "We need to figure out what is unique to this time and place and what can make our work unique," she says.
Ms. Ryan thinks the change in society caused by feminism "is one of the unique things about the last few decades.
"My feminism is very inclusive. I look for what is good for women and for everyone outside the power elite. I try to remove elements of domination and control."
Ms. Ryan designs primarily for children, creating playgrounds that are consigned spaces.
In creating an environment for children in nature, she invites changes. "When they change what I've done, it means they are using it, it means they have been empowered."
Ms. Ryan's presentation will be the second in a series of three in the gallery's Feminism and Art History Lecture Series. The first, Sunday at 2 p.m., features Mary D. Garrard of American University speaking on "Artemisia Gentileschi: A Major Painter of the Italian Baroque." The Guerrilla girls will close the series on April 9. The presentations are free with gallery admission.
Hadassah, a national Jewish women's organization, has published "Ribcage: Israeli Women's Fiction," a collection of 16 short stories by Israeli women covering a range of experiences and viewpoints. Carol Diament, director of Hadassah's National Jewish Education Department, and Lily Rattok, professor of modern Hebrew literature at Tel Aviv University, compiled the book to foster understanding between Israel writers and American Jews.
Many of the story themes will be familiar to American readers: Hannah Trager's exploration of the myth of women's equality in the struggle for a political voice in institutions, this time a socialist kibbutz; Amalia Kahana-Carmon's tale of a high school girl's crush on her teacher; Savyon Liebrecht's story of conflicts between mother and daughter. Copies at $10 for members and $15 for non-members are available from Hadassah National Order Dept., 50 West 58th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.