'Towards Paradise' 

 

Venice, Italy | 2008

'Towards Paradise' was the first major landscape installation to be part of the Venice Architecture Biennale. Working in collaboration with Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN), the garden installation is carved out of the overgrown grounds of the former Church of the Virgins, a Benedictine nunnery that was destroyed in the late 1800’s.

Towards Paradise is a contemporary allegory for a journey through earthly dilemmas, evoking what has been lost and what can be gained in the relationship between humans and nature. For the visitor the journey begins with the discovery of the garden, entering through the garden wall and finding oneself among the ruins of buildings covered in ivy. The path, if followed led to the “Store Room” or place of Memory, a warehouse where the back wall was inscribed with the Latin names of extinct fauna and flora. 

Leaving Memory to explore the path through the thick overgrowth and ruins of an abandoned garden, the visitor then moves to the garden of Nourishment, a traditional food garden honoring the sustenance that is for both body and soul. In a clearing was the contrast of Enlightenment, where unearthly “clouds” held aloft by white helium balloons above an oval-shaped landform inspire reflection and dreams of Paradise. 

The whole garden was extremely complex and evocative, and was among the most popular pieces of the whole Biennale. It was so successful, in fact, that the Biennale chose to keep most of the garden after the event had finished. This was the only installation for this was true, and the mounds remain to this day as successful additions to the Venice landscape. 

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Towards Paradise responds to the challenge of how to cultivate one’s garden, or how to tend to our affairs.

In an idealistic world to have that capacity, one needs wisdom and a desire to search for wisdom. In French one’s ‘Jardin Secret’ is the private and protected part of one’s soul.
— Kathryn Gustafson, Founding Partner
Towards Paradise was and is a stellar success. Its achievements are the results of vision, creativity, and ability to execute in a timely manner to a high degree of quality. I am forever grateful to Gustafson Porter + Bowman for their contribution.
— Aaron Betsky, Curator of 2008 Venice Biennale
...‘Towards Paradise’ by Gustafson and her combined Seattle and London offices, blew everything else away...The long walk past the three-dimensional clichés in the Arsenale is well worth it for this magical oasis of calm and release.”
— Hugh Pearman (The Sunday Times (2008)
...Gustafson Porter + Bowman have planted an intriguing garden of sweet-smelling herbs and voluptuous vegetables, shaded by billowing white sails held aloft by white balloons. In the morning, dew holds the sails close to a rolling lawn; as the sun rises, the dew evaporates and the sails rise to form artificial clouds above the Arsenale. This is enchanting...
— Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian (2008)