Three gardens as places of performative resistance and resilience 

In my research text, I will combine three different gardens in North Africa and Europe together with an attitude that emphasizes climate change, adaptation to it, ecological resistance, and healing from trauma. The article highlights how these community and family gardens act as sites of resistance and resilience. Over the course of the research I became familiar with several family gardens in the refugee camps in the Algerian Sahara, as well as community gardens in Rome, Paris and Helsinki. 

Resistance is combined with artistic activity especially in the Helsinki Sandoponic Garden, called The PHOSfate Garden. It is a project by the artistic research group PhosFATE formed by Pekka Niskanen and Mohamed Sleiman Labat in 2018. The Helsinki Sandoponic Garden was constructed for the Helsinki Biennial during the spring and summer 2023. The PHOSfate garden shown in the biennial relates to phosphorus and its impact on the Sahrawi, but also to the environmental challenges posed by climate change and sea eutrophication caused by phosphorus fertilizers in the Baltic Sea. I will explore the connections between the Sahrawi gardens in the refugee camps in the Sahara with the Baltic Sea when I discuss the PHOSfate Garden. 

I will describe some manifestations of resistance that arise when the established notions of ecological and environmental justice within a community or society are disrupted and confronted. I name ecological resistance to refer to a situation where the prevailing concepts of the community and society are broken and challenged. At the same time, this resistance takes place in art because all gardens have an artistic level in addition to their environmental and horticultural level. 

I bring up the idea of the performativity of gardens, how gardens take place in a certain time and place. I point out how different agents in the garden participate in the performative act. The performativity perspective connects gardens to the discourses and practices of contemporary art. Gardens support and change identities, which also are performative in nature. Identities are based on actions related to repetition and renewal. (Pulkkinen & Rossi 2006, 13; Pulkkinen 1998a, 214, 217.) They often rely on a narrative (Pulkkinen 1998a, 186–187), which may be the result of conversations. In the performative act, resistance is an important aspect. It can create circumstances for change regarding identities, thinking, and practices. 

My approach to ecological resistance relates to environmental and ecological justice. Environmental justice as a discourse focuses especially on certain communities that suffer from poverty, misrecognition, and marginalization. They might be indigenous communities, communities of color, or those dealing with the varied effects resulting from colonial regimes. It is typical that these communities have faced disproportionate environmental injustice, and less environmental protections. In environmental justice discourses, the focus is predominantly on the consequences of environmental politics and changes to human communities. This is almost the polar opposite to the discursive practices of ecological justice, in which the central concern is for the natural world with or without human presence. (Schlosberg 2007, 4-6.) 

I don’t wish to stress the separation of these two different approaches to justice and injustice. Instead, I’m interested in exploring their interconnectedness and how these justices are linked together as part of a broader and more inclusive discourse. Notions of justice regulate how we define social and economic equality and inequality, based on their respective politics of recognition. Lack of recognition can lead to devaluation on the individual, cultural, and global level, and causes great harm to oppressed individuals and communities. (Schlosberg 2007, 13-16.) 

The task of genealogy is to highlight fragmentary, local, and previously rejected knowledge as opposed to institutional, established knowledge. Genealogy is about subjugated knowledge, but also the knowledge of the subjugated, about the historical struggles and conflicts pushed to the margins of institutional knowledge. The genealogical interest in the micro-history of minorities has opened the possibility for the rewriting of history of the marginalized, especially their identities. (Ojakangas 1998, 17-18.) 

Michel Foucault suggests that we should focus attention on the prevailing structures of subjugation, on those continuous processes as a result of which bodies are subjugated and behavior is controlled. According to Foucault, it is precisely in these processes that subjects are produced in their reality and materiality, and it is precisely these processes that can be politicized in a genealogical examination. (Ojakangas 1998, 17, 21.) 

This text engages with the subjugation of the Sahrawis along with their resistance which has emerged in the form of family gardens in the Sahara refugee camps. In the PHOSfate Garden in Helsinki Biennial 2023, we follow a similar logic of resistance together with Mohamed Sleiman Labat. 

PHOSfate Garden and the legacy of artists’ community gardens 

I connect the Helsinki Biennale's PHOSfate Garden to community gardens. Their importance has grown steadily as part of art and biennials, especially in the 21st century. One of the first community gardens in Paris was realized by the artist Robert Milin together with the art center Palais de Tokyo in 2001-2002. The garden was established on an unused strip of land on the west side of the Palais de Tokyo building. Milin curated the community garden and selected the community members to implement the artistic process that continues today. (Palais de Tokyo 2022.) 

Robert Milin's community garden.

In Documenta 15 Kassel, Bengali Kitchen Garden by Britto Arts Trust was part of the exhibition, inviting communities to gather, talk and cook together. The garden brought up themes of the food politics, cultural ties, and marginalization. (Documenta fifteen 2022.) 


Bengali Kitchen Garden by Britto Arts Trust.

One of the most interesting community gardens in Helsinki is the Tapio Wirkkala Park designed by Robert Wilson for the Arabia district. The park opened in 2012. It consists of nine separate "rooms", where residents can meet each other and spend time together. The rooms, which are part of the urban space, are marked only by steel borders and hawthorn hedges. Walls and ceilings are completely missing. (Isohanni 2012, 149-162.) 


Tapio Wirkkala Park.

Alvar Aalto's Paimio sanatorium garden is both a modern garden and a community-oriented art. The purpose of the garden, completed in 1933, was to attract patients of the tuberculosis sanatorium to walk outside and meet each other. The garden had a clear objective to facilitate healing from physical and mental trauma. (Mäkelä 2022, 33-34.) 

My article does not stress the artists' gardens nor analyze them, although I recognize that the PHOSfate garden is related to previously realized gardens. I have researched a number of artists’ gardens that could be used to contextualize the PHOSfate Garden. However, instead of stressing that type of contextualizing, I focus on examining the connections between the Sahara gardens, the Paris community garden and the PHOSfate Garden, as well as the related thinking and activities that bind them to each other. Conversation is among the most important of these aspects. I point out the connection of conversations to contemporary art in my examination of the PHOSfate Garden. 


Gardens as heterotopias 

Gardens have sometimes been framed in theoretical discourse as either utopias or heterotopias. Foucault theorized that gardens can be considered “crisis heterotopias”, a category he also extends to psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. Heterotopias are “other places” in relation to normative cultural places in a given society. Heterotopias have a relationship with all other places inside a particular culture. (Foucault 1997, 333.) 

Gardens as heterotopias, can be spaces of both imagination and action (Foucault 1997, 332-334) and of crisis. The purpose of a terrorist attack is to produce death and subjugation. Subjugation occurs when an individual is traumatized. Only an attempt to unravel the trauma can open the way out of subjugation. One place for the struggle against subjugation is in our community garden in Paris in the Jardin Truillot. 

I will highlight identity theory and politics when discussing gardens. I will bring up Margaret Somers' (Somers 1994) thinking about narratives and identities, and, at the same time, I will focus on the relationship between trauma and identity. I will connect trauma theories especially with our community garden in Paris in the Jardin Truillot. I will propose an interpretation of the shaping of identities as part of a traumatic experience of injustice in my discussion of the community garden. 

An essential part of an artistic research is the art produced by the artist researcher. It can be included to the research material that is analyzed. Or, equally, art and the process of making art can be one of the chosen artistic research methods. The gardens are one artistic part of my research, and the two videos included in my research are another. These videos are the results of an analysis of filmed and recorded material from a sailboat on the Baltic Sea and from Paris after the terrorist attacks in 2015. The videos bring to light environmental injustice in the Baltic Sea and the Sahara Desert as well as traumatic experiences after the terrorist attacks in Paris. 

In the video PhosFATE Godzilla, Sleiman Labat narrates the life in Sahrawi refugee camp in Sahara. He connects Sahara and the phosphate from the region with the Baltic Sea and its eutrophication. My video installation Community Terrors is based on the experiences of the terrorist attack and its aftermath next to the Bataclan theater in Paris. In the scenes of this artwork, I recall events linked to the terrorist attack, my observations, and the consequences of the attacks in our home street. 

The video PhosFATE Godzilla.

The Sahrawis’ gardens: emerging horticultural practices renewing the oral tradition 

Gardens and agricultural knowledge have significantly changed the food production of the Sahrawis. They have been dependent on international food aid since their arrival at the refugee camps in south-western Algeria in 1975. The gardens have the potential to change the diet of the Sahrawis and to help them provide more nutritionally balanced food with vegetables and herbs. (Brahim 2016, 55-56; Sleiman Labat & Niskanen 2020a, 3, 8; Sleiman Labat & Niskanen 2020b, 244, 261.) 

Morocco succeeded in denying the Sahrawis the right to the Western Sahara after they conquered the area and its natural resources 1975. Morocco took over the region after Spain gave up its colony. (Zunes & Mundy 2010, 99-101; Leite et al. 2006, 13; Sleiman Labat & Niskanen 2020b, 244.) The United Nations has never accepted the occupation (UN Resolution 380 1975). The Sahrawi exile and their dislocation into refugee camps in Algeria has led to the disappearance of the traditional Sahrawi way of life. In the past, they were pastoralist nomads primarily in the Western Sahara region (Wilson 2014, 15; Volpato et al. 2015, 12). Sahrawi refugee camps and their gardens can be understood in terms of a crisis heterotopia, as the Sahrawi population enclosed within the refugee camps do not have the right to go outside of the camps, nor can they return without specific permissions. 

Sahrawis have developed a new relationship with plants. The herbs and vegetables in the gardens as well as the plants kept inside the houses are indications of this altered relationship. The gardens are important spaces for the oral tradition now enriched with new knowledge about Sahrawi horticulture. At the same time, this represents a shift in the identities of the Sahrawi communities living in the Sahara refugee camps. 

Sahrawis have their very own oral knowledge formation that Mohamed Sleiman Labat has called Desert Knowledge. Sahrawi knowledge is still strongly based on oral traditions, which has transmitted and preserved the stories and events of Sahrawi history. Oral traditions highlight geographical areas and places and their poetical dimension. At the same time, desert knowledge about weather, seasons and plants is passed on. (Sleiman Labat & Niskanen 2020a, 4.) A new oral knowledge about horticulture bears fruit in the Sahrawi gardens. 

The Sahrawi horticultural practice has been shaping and changing their oral knowledge. The Sahrawi horticultural knowledge and practices can be thought of as the formative beginnings of a new horticultural discourse. It developed in the Sahrawi refugee camps under extreme conditions, in which the Sahrawis combined both Western garden knowledge and their own knowledge of the Sahara desert and its conditions. 

The gardens of the refugee camps in the Sahara are indicative of the transformative and adaptive way of life of the Sahrawis. The Sahrawi gardens are based on their knowledge of living in the Sahara Desert, which is often 

flattened out and simplified in Western discourses as one and the same place without accounting for local differences. The Sahrawi Pastoral Nomads are forced into the limited area of refugee camps in the Algerian Sahara. The emergence of the camps and Morocco's decision to occupy most of Western Sahara have practically destroyed their former way of life. The UN resolutions against the occupation have not prevented Morocco from remaining permanently in the land once home to Sahrawi nomads. 

Land use and mining in particular produce threats against indigenous peoples and their Native lands. These are often considered direct attacks against indigenous cultures. Even though the Sahrawis are not strictly an indigenous group of people, their position and identity are very close to that of indigenous peoples. The Sahrawis are refugees who have undergone a loss of their land and nomadic way of life, especially as a result of the mining industry. Phosphate rock from Western Sahara has been exported out of the country for over forty years. The Bou Craa mine in Western Sahara is one of the main sites from which Morocco extracts and exports phosphate rock to be sold outside the region. (Western Sahara Resource Watch Report 2021.) 

The takeover of lands is always a threat to prevailing cultural practices. The destruction of the lands of the indigenous people and nomads has led to the erosion of their traditional ways of life and culture, which has sometimes been characterized as an act of genocide (Schlosberg 2007, 72). This is also happening to the Sahrawis, whose knowledge of moving in the Sahara is disappearing due to their current stationary way of life in the refugee camps. Although some of the desert knowledge benefits the Sahrawis’ horticulture, it is an entirely new discourse, which simultaneously participates in the production of a new Sahrawi identity. 

Sahrawis suffer from a lack of recognition as a minority in Algeria, Western Sahara, and in Morocco. Sahrawis have been stripped of their political rights and denied any proactive role in deciding the fate of the Western Sahara and its natural resources. Misrecognition is often tied to institutional power in a manner that reproduces and constructs subordination and inequity, and disrespects identities and communities. Recognition requires conditions in which individuals and their communities are entirely free of any threats. They must have political rights as well and the freedom to practice their cultural traditions. Extreme injustice happens when a whole community is excluded from the possession of political rights and who as a result are unable to protect the natural resources in their historical area against colonial and postcolonial powers. (Schlosberg 2007, 13-16.) 

This is very much the current situation for the Sahrawis who as a group have also lost most of their traditional nomadic identity. There is no irrefutable evidence that the Sahrawis would have not just continued expanding the mining operations that were started by the Spanish colonizers in the Western Sahara. Sahrawi history doesn’t have an easy answer for this dilemma. 


The Sandoponic Garden: an innovation born out of resistance 

The gardens in the refugee camps of the Sahara are in many ways utopia, not merely an imagined or unreachable sense, but utopias that have become realities. These gardens are political statements about the strength, resistance, and resilience of a community in a geographical place in which it is presumed that there is an inevitable lack of resources and unavoidable marginalization. 

Not only do the gardens provide a source of food for Sahrawi refugees, but they also serve as a valuable research model for horticultural practices in extreme conditions. They are poetical places where the Sahrawis' oral knowledge of the Sahara and its climate conditions are evident and pronounced. This collective knowledge demonstrably affects the design and practices of the gardens. Mohamed Sleiman Labat’s film Desert PhosFATE (2023) brings to the fore aspects of the Sahrawi context, through storytelling that centers around the family gardens. 

The first small scale family gardens started to emerge in the Sahrawi refugee camps in the Hamada Desert, southwest Algeria around 2002. Ever since then, they have been increasing. The different garden models are strong expressions of resilience. They provide necessary food for the Sahrawis to survive. International aid has been ongoing since the arrival of the Sahrawi to the refugee camps. (Brahim T. 2020; Brahim T. 2016, 56; Sleiman Labat & Niskanen 2020b, 243-244.) 

The Sahrawis have started to engage in organic farming and to develop new knowledge around it. The most important new garden model is the Sandoponic Garden, where plants grow in a controlled sand environment, designed to preserve as much water and biological nutrients in the desert as possible. (Sleiman Labat 2021b.) 

The sandoponic farming explores the potential of using sand particles as a medium where to plant vegetables in the desert. The sandoponic garden provides a solution to the challenging situation of water scarcity and limitations in the refugee camps. Sand surrounds the Sahrawis in huge quantities, yet it’s seldom thought of as a resource for food. Sand has mostly been considered in the negative, as lifeless and useless. 

The Sandoponic garden experiment is led by Saharan agricultural engineer Taleb Brahim. The experiment is based on other garden models that have been developed in the refugee camps in the Sahara during recent years, such as family gardens and hydroponic gardens (Sleiman Labat 2021b). With sandoponic gardens, Sahrawis are rethinking their relationship with sand as a medium in which they can grow plants. The sandoponic gardens provide a novel solution to the challenging situation of water scarcity and other limitations in the refugee camps. (Sleiman Labat 2021b; Algaada Centre 2022.) 

Sandoponic cultivation requires water and humidity control as water dissolves very quickly in the sandy soil and evaporates when the garden is exposed to direct sunlight. A Sandoponic garden can prevent these problems with the help of various control mechanisms such as the use of straw and other covering materials. The Sandoponic Garden has only fifty centimeters of sand on a sloped surface that does not allow the water to go

through to the soil. The grains of sand should be relatively large, allowing water to flow to different parts of the garden. Excess water is collected at the lower end of the sloping surface of the garden and reused again. (Sleiman Labat 2021b.) 

The Sandoponic garden requires the use of organic fertilization from local sources, such as manure that is made into compost together with organic kitchen waste, leftovers like vegetable peels. As they are mixed with the ash and the manure of the animals, the green leaves of the trees and the residue of the crops, this catalyzes a process of anaerobic fermentation. Compost produces nutrient solution, named compost tea by the Sahrawis, for the gardens. (Sleiman Labat 2021b.) 

So far, there are only a handful of Sandoponic gardens in the Samara refugee camp in the Sahara. However, this new form of garden is a promising breakthrough, especially within the Samara camp, where the water shortage is a big problem. 


The Sahrawi gardens as art and activism 

In all three gardens, in Sahara, Paris and Helsinki, the recognition of injustice is the central activism of gardens. It is possible to understand the Sahrawi hydroponic and sandoponic gardens in the Sahara refugee camps as a combination of both activism and art (Desert PhosFATE 2023). The gardens always express something familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The familiar is related to the local place and position, and to the promise of future that every garden carries in itself until it is time for harvest. This familiar aspect also includes an understanding of the ecological and structural injustice that the Sahrawis are forced to experience in the refugee camps. 

The unfamiliar is related to the power and future of gardens and to their expanded function outside the horticultural practice as art and activism. When the phenomenon gets more well known outside the refugee camps in the Western World, the unjust case of the Sahrawis will get more attention. They are resisting the idea and position of a passive victim, becoming active subjects instead. The unfamiliar is also represented in the new forms of gardens like the sandoponic garden that the Sahrawis started to develop around 2021 in the Sahara refugee camps. 

The unfamiliar becomes familiar when the post-refugee gardening, art and activism are repeated as performatives at a certain time and place like in the Sahrawi refugee camps. This makes it possible to recognize the gardens as part of one’s own society and culture as well as part of the wider world around the camps. With the term post-refugee gardening, I refer to the change of lifestyle of the Sahrawis when they had given up their nomadic way of living and started to have gardens around 2000. Another condition for the term post-refugee gardening is when the Sahrawis' temporary living in refugee camps became permanent without possibility to move to an independent Western Sahara. 


The performativity of gardens: escaping the norm by repeating differently 

Not everything is possible within a certain time and place, because events and phenomena are always culturally determined and structured (Butler 2006, 42; Pulkkinen & Rossi 2006, 10). Only certain ways of obtaining food become comprehensible categories in a given nomadic culture. Gardens are not part of a mobile and perpetually changing nomadic lifestyle. Changes in the nomadic way of life often have occurred as a result of coercive forces related to colonialism. The emergence of a garden in the refugee camps of the Sahara Desert has, at first, to be understood as above all an exception, in comparison their previous way of life as refugees. 

The life of the Sahrawis in the refugee camps marks the end of their nomadic pastoralism that previously remained unchanged over generations. New institutions such as schools, hospitals and cultural centers have been established as part of the camps. Above all, the gardens are the result of the development of the Sahrawi civil society and not to be understood as directly connected to the official policy of the refugee camps. The establishment and growth of the gardens was required to underline the possibility of horticultural practice in the Sahara Desert. This practice has been repeated for more than twenty years, which is the reason why I also view the gardens in relation to ideas of performativity. 

When thinking about performativity, one must take into account its counterpart - the pedagogical narrative. A form that seemingly lends itself to more static forms, the rigidity of this kind of narrativity doesn’t allow much room for the possibilities of retelling and variation as does the performative. (Huddart 2006, 108–109, 121; Bhabha 1994, 145.) The pedagogical implies normativity and continuity, while the performative embraces a certain kind of restlessness, a constant movement away from what once was (Huddart 2006, 108). 

In philosophy, normativity is generally considered to mean an action or attitude that should be followed or according to which one should form one’s state of being. A norm is a principle of correct behavior that binds group members. Norm guides and regulates appropriate and acceptable behavior. (Railton 2000, 1-2; Gibbard 2012, 10.) Normativity affects being and acting in the world. The principles of correct action produce certain beliefs, emotional states, interactions, or actions that are either appropriate or inappropriate. (Raz 2000, 34.) 

The phenomenon of family gardens in the Sahrawi refugee camps might productively be understood in this way, as a countermove against the pedagogical. The gardens can also be seen as performative in the sense that its development was only possible at a certain place and time, and under specific and situated conditions of the refugee camps. 

In my thinking, I consider performative repetition, repeating differently, doing differently, and acting differently in a certain place as a counterforce to the subjugation of individuals and groups by dominant powers. The emergence of all these “othernesses” is also influenced and shaped by mistakes and coincidences. A stray seed landing in the wrong place in the Sahara Desert can mark the unintentional beginnings of a basil garden. Such accidental beginnings have played a role in the past in the case of Sahrawi’s refugee camps in southwestern Algeria. 

I return to the relationship between gardens and performativity when I consider the PHOSfate Garden's relationship with contemporary art practices and the concept of performance. 


Community garden as spaces for healing 

In Paris, I have gotten to know of the activities of the community gardens by visiting them and by talking to the residents who take care of the gardens that they themselves have established. I belong to a community garden in the 11th arrondissement that was founded after the terrorist attack on the Bataclan theater in Paris. I lived right next to the theater when the attack happened in November 2015. 90 people died in the Bataclan theater and on our street (Niskanen 2019, 109). 


The three channel video installation “Community Gardens” tells our story next to the Bataclan theater.

After the Bataclan terrorist attack, the police and the national gendarmerie isolated my home and the area around it, a narrow street twenty meters from the theater. No outsiders were allowed to enter our street for ten days. Finnish media was trying to get access to my photographs of my isolated home street and a permission to enter my home. I refused to collaborate with them as we had faced a shock followed by trauma. After the November terrorist attack, blood, bullet marks, abandoned bloody clothes and objects belonging to the killed persons emerged in the writings as symbols of the traumatic event. They were in our street and in the streets of the neighborhood. The November terrorist attack affected a large number of people in Paris and must therefore be classified as a mass trauma (Howie 2012, VI-VII). 

Disintegration of the identity is a potential threat for an individual who has experienced a traumatic event (Herman 1997, 131). The texts left around the Bataclan theater after the November terrorist attack 2015 were a kind of community bond that maintained the community’s coherence and continuity. Our community garden in Paris was established for the same purpose. After the terrorist attack, the residents of the 11th arrondissement had to build a new relationship with the surroundings of the Bataclan theater, the surrounding streets, and the cafes that the terrorists had attacked, killing their customers. For many, the cafes had become non-places that had to be avoided because of fear and trauma. 

In Paris, community gardens are above all places for social interaction, discussion and thinking. Our post-Bataclan community garden in the Jardin Truillot works according to the same principle. The community garden was formed as a sign and a place of the traumas and survival after the terrorist attack. The primary purpose of our garden is to recover from the trauma of the attacks through social interaction and conversation. One of the key functions of gardens has been to act as a place of rest and recovery (Marques, McIntosh & Hayley 2022, 32-33, 40-41; Stigsdotter & Grahn 2002, 60, 62-63; Diamant & Waterhouse 2010, 84-85). Gardens activate perceptions by producing multi-sensory experiences with scents, colors, shapes, and textures. These are shared experiences for the members of the many Paris community gardens. 


Trauma as a prison 

A terrorist attack can produce a kind of prison, and a prison sentence, for the person who has gone through it. This experience must be dismantled as part of the community in order for the victim to be freed. The person who has experienced a trauma is often not able to relate in a satisfactory way with the surrounding reality. There isn’t always a rational explanation for the trauma, the event that traumatized the person. A traumatic event can be almost anything. Trauma can arise from an event that is related to the immediate social and physical reality of the experiencer, but a remote event can also traumatize. The key is recovery and resistance to trauma in dealing with it. (Briere & Scott 2008, 3–5; Herman 1997, 266-267.) 

Terrorism forces its victim to witness the terrorist attack. Becoming a witness is accidental. Distance does not protect anyone from terrorism and the trauma it produces. The trauma-related narrative makes it possible to include the trauma story as part of the story told by the individual about his own identity, but also about his community’s identity. Instead of the trauma, the individual can focus on this narrative that the traumatic experience has built. (Howie 2012, 29, 159; Herman 1997,32, 202-204.) 

From a poststructuralist point of view, the identity adopted by an individual is tied to a certain time and place. Identities are culturally and historically produced. They are shaped by everyday life as well as by the influence of diverse practices and experiences in a certain place. (Best & Kellner 1991, 19.) In social psychology, community identity is the experience of belonging to a group. In addition, social identity can determine the characteristics of people's identity in everyday existence. Individuals are often defined as members of a group (Pulkkinen 1998b, 244), such as post-Bataclan terrorist victims. The identity work after the terrorist attack had to be expanded to build a new relationship with the whole city of Paris outside the Bataclan neighborhood and the community garden. The work also had to be done with those social and cultural groups whose only understanding of the terrorist attack was mainly through the media. 

The traumas and suffering of the Paris terrorist attack victims got marginalized under the global media spectacle. Media images and the media spectacle do not rise above the trauma to connect the traumatic 

experience to the perceptions, experiences and narratives that the individual or the community faces after a catastrophe. The person who has experienced trauma is quite often not able to relate their experiences and perceptions of the catastrophe to the surrounding reality in a satisfactory way. (Briere & Scott 2008, 4; Bargai et al. 2004, 290–291). 

According to Luke Howie, the purpose of terrorism is to influence the group of people who must witness terrorist attacks (Howie 2012, VI-VII). Terrorism is violence, and the purpose usually is to kill people. Howie's definition expands terrorism to include not only the victims and the target, but also the witnesses of the terrorist act. (Howie 2012, 159). 


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, present and past self, narrative as a tool for a continuous identity 

The suffering caused by psychological trauma has been recognized gradually. The subjects of research have been diverse: grotesque violence, witnessing its effects, terrorist attacks, witnessing death, and extreme human suffering. (Brewin 2003, 6.) Post-traumatic stress disorder is related to the physical reaction caused by the traumatic event. It is not related to personal weakness or vulnerability. War, oppression, man-made disasters, life-threatening accidents, and terrorist attacks often produce post-traumatic stress disorder. (Brewin 2003, 1; Herman 1997,47-48) 

The American Psychiatric Association has defined objective criteria for the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. They are related to the possibility of imminent death or serious injury, but also to events that may cause a strong feeling of fear or helplessness. (Brewin 2003, 6.) According to the criteria, exposure to a traumatic event may have occurred if both of the following conditions fit the experience: The victim has seen or encountered a life-threatening event or was at risk of injury. At the same time, fear and terror have been associated with the event. According to a parallel and equal criterion, traumatization can follow if distressing memories of the event are constantly re-experienced. Images, thoughts, or perceptions alone can cause flashbacks. This may happen in distressing dreams. The condition for both definitions is that the mental disorder lasts more than a month. (Brewin 2003, 7-8.) 

Being a victim of a terrorist attack is not an everyday event. The media, its spectacles, and provocative headlines, distort the image of the victims. Being a victim can be an ongoing crisis. Stories related to the terrorist attacks are rare in the Finnish media, research, and art. Therefore, the identification with the society of those who have experienced a terrorist attack is weak in Finland. A central element of an individual's identity is a narrative that supports the identity. A terrorist attack often permanently changes the identity and the personal narrative, placing the individual in a new position. 

In trauma, the continuity of identity is threatened. For the traumatized, it is not immediately possible to integrate the events into the narrative of the individual or of the community. Identities are often determined precisely on the basis of belonging to a group or being excluded from it. In a terrorist attack, the previous boundaries that have protected the individual often collapse. It is possible that a threat of violence and destruction might emerge. The sense of security is replaced by fear, evidence and experience of the terror, and symbols of violence. These can be either individual or shared by the community that has experienced terror. (Briere & Scott 2008, 4–5; Herman 1997, 73, 192; Niskanen 2017, 8–9.) 

If the person who has experienced the trauma is not able to build a coherent story about their traumatic experience, the post-traumatic symptoms usually will get worse. However, forming a story that supports the continuity of identity is not possible immediately after the trauma and a traumatic experience. It can take weeks, months or even longer to process a traumatic experience. (Herman 1997,12-15, 63-64.) 

The reconstruction of the experience is usually influenced by the information from the world surrounding the subject about the event that produced the trauma (Bargai et al. 2004, 290–291). The trauma-related narrative will make it possible to include the trauma as part of the story told by the individual about their own identity, but also about their community’s identity (Herman 1997, 204-205). Instead of the trauma, the individual can focus on this narrative that the traumatic experience has caused. 


Narrating in the garden: counteracting the narrative silence 

The condition of living in the present after a traumatic event is remembering (Howie 2012, 29) and recounting events for the sake of continuity of identity. The most important aspect of the community garden established after the Bataclan theater terrorist attack is the sharing of stories and experiences related to the attack among the members of the garden. It is important that the stories are reflected from different perspectives and by those who have experienced the same events. The terrorist attack is not over immediately but continues in the minds of the local people for a long time. 

Normative society often tries to keep the traumatized in the margins (Herman 1997, 244; Bennett 2005, 5-6; Brewin 2003, 16). Those suffering from trauma do not have always a common public story with which to reflect on the trauma. The further away the cultural community is from the traumatizing event, the fewer suitable narratives exist (Somers 1994, 630). Our community garden in the Jardin Truillot has brought together people who have moved to Paris from different cultures. Together, the members of the garden community narrate and produce different trauma stories. Those participating in the garden's maintenance can reflect on their personal life situation through these stories. 

According to normative expectations, trauma victims are expected to regain psychological balance and return to their previous normal life within at least a few months (Brewin 2003, 16; Herman 1997, 190-191). If the survivor does not have clear physical injuries, the event defined as traumatic can even be considered an excuse for avoiding responsibilities related to social life. The ability to go over a traumatic event is individual. Sometimes those who have experienced trauma say that the events they experienced have changed them permanently. If the community does not have similar experiences of trauma, other members of the community are often not able to reflect on what happened with the traumatized person. (Brewin 2003, 16-17.) 

The sociologist Margaret Somers calls the lack of narratives about a certain identity and event narrative silence. This silence denies the individual the possibility of his own subjectivity. At worst, the identity of the victim of terror, refugee status, or environmental injustice does not become visible in the community but remains trapped in the closed space of individual experience. It is possible to challenge narrative silence with a counter-narrative. (Somers 1994, 630-631.) The places of counter-narrative among the three gardens are the community garden in Paris and the Sandoponic garden in Helsinki. 


Past and present trauma: community garden as a space for acceptance 

The images and memories related to the traumatic event do not only deal with the past event, but also with the victim’s current experience of the event (Bennett 2005, 24). This is also the primary reason why the Jardin Truillot community garden exists and why narratives relating to traumatization are told. Even if outsiders might think that the traumatized person repeats the same narrative about what happened and the trauma that followed, the small shifts and differences in the narrative are essential. They might signify two different selves: the one who had to face the traumatizing event, and the temporally later self, which unravels the trauma with the help of an ever-evolving narrative. 

French poet Charlotte Delbo survived the Holocaust and was freed from Auschwitz, after which she dealt with her experiences by separating the present self from the past Auschwitz self (Bennett 2005, 25). In Delbo's perspective, something essential to the experience of the Holocaust disappears when the essentially traumatic experience is consigned to history and ordinary memory. Delbo separated common memory from sense memory. For Delbo, ordinary memory is connected to thinking processes and words. They are areas of the mind where events are made understandable, tied to common knowledge and experience, so that they are easily understandable to different audiences. (Bennett 2005, 25.) 

Delbo's sense memory registers the physical trace of a certain event. As such, it is always present in the present moment, even if it is not constantly felt. Delbo also makes another distinction, that between the “self of the history” and the “self of the present”. According to Delbo, everything that happened to the other self in history, the one from Auschwitz, does not affect the present self. The experiences of Auschwitz belong to the self of the history. 

For Delbo, sense memory registers the physical imprint of the event. As such, it is always in the present although not continuously felt. Everything that happened to this other self, the one from Auschwitz, doesn’t touch the self now. The Auschwitz experience is the property of another self. Physical trauma can come back if the memories of the historical self evoke past feelings in the present self through sense memory. Sense memory operates through the body, producing a kind of "seeing truth" rather than being characterized by "thinking truth." Sense memory registers the pain of the memory and conveys it as a bodily experience. (Bennett 2005, 25-26.) 

Based on the distinction of Delbo's proposal of two selves, it is understandable that even if the community surrounding the victim of a terrorist attack would want the processing of the terrorist attack to stop, the victim’s sense memory and the related bodily experience do not allow the trauma to be completely erased. The Jardin Truillot community garden represents resistance against normative expectations of the disappearance of the pain associated with the past Bataclan terrorist attack. It is a place where the two selves are accepted. 

The community garden in the Jardin Truillot resists the idea that there should be a closure for the healing process after a terrorist attack. It resists the marginalization of the traumatized victims who continue to narrate the events of the Paris terrorist attacks. To narrate repeatedly the same events is a performative act that makes space for a trauma narrative in a certain time and place, and thus a space for potential shifts and changes in the narrative. 


Helsinki Sandoponic Garden PHOSfate: bringing together realities of resistance and resilience

Our PhosFATE-garden in the Helsinki Biennial 2023 combines both realities, the realities of the Sahrawi and the Baltic Sea. PHOSfate garden centers around the issue of phosphorus and its impact on the Sahrawi, but also issues of environmental injustice, climate change and the eutrophication caused by phosphorus fertilizers in the Baltic Sea. The Sahrawis have started to engage in practices of organic farming and are continually developing new knowledge around it. The most important innovation is the Sandoponic Garden. 

The aim of our PHOSfate Garden is to combine two geographically distinct realities, that of the struggle of the Sahrawis and the Baltic Sea. The garden on the Vallisaari island is inspired by the model developed in the Sahrawi refugee camps but it takes another form entirely. Its physical form resembles the blue-green algae cells as they divide and multiply. In the Vallisaari garden, we grew basil, coriander, carrots, potatoes, kale and lettuce, the same plants that the Sahrawis have in their sandoponic gardens in the Sahara. 


Our garden signifies an artistic and ecological resistance against forgetting and marginalization

Phosphate mining is the reason for the Sahrawis losing their nomadic way of life and it has reshaped the Baltic Sea marine ecosystem for over a half century. The phosphorus fertilizer made up of the distant phosphate rock in Western Sahara has in turn found its way into the Baltic Sea. (Western Sahara Resource Watch Report 2020.) The mined phosphate rock used for fertilizers in agriculture has increased the phosphorus fluxes to marine areas threefold (McCrackin et al. 2018, 1107). The excessive use of processed fertilizers on farms is causing widespread eutrophication. It is most evident in the form of cyanobacteria blooms, especially in the summer (Meier et al. 2018, 3227), sometimes also perceivable as traces in the frozen sea in winter. The algae get their nutrition from phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers. Finally, the algae die in the sea. Dead algal blooms absorb oxygen from the water and sink to the bottom. (Gupta et al. 2015, 22-23, 35.) This causes oxygen depletion in large areas of the Baltic Sea. Significant oxygen loss in turn leads to the death of fish and further decimation of marine life. The cyanobacteria blooms consume oxygen (Ahtiainen et al. 2014, 9-10). 

Our PHOSfate garden is a sign of a trauma and of artistic resistance. The extended field and practice of art and gardens means that their aesthetic dimension is just one among many. The political and social dimensions of art and gardens emerge when different discourses affecting them are recognized. The PHOSfate garden has a significant political dimension. The dialogue with the audience and the garden is centered around environmental trauma and food politics. By the term environmental trauma (Autti 2002, 94-98), I refer to ecological changes in the Baltic Sea region that the communities and marine life have faced. The changes in the marine environment have put many marine species in danger because of oxygen depletion. These injustices for the local Baltic Sea communities and marine environments highlight one of the many political dimensions in our work. 

I don't think that art can be seen as either political or apolitical, but that all art and artworks have a political dimension. According to the aspect perspective developed by Kari Palonen, the aspects of reality are not "separated according to their political nature, but we are able to see both political and non-political sides in all matters" (Rossi 1999, 12). 


Helsinki Biennial 2023 and PHOSfate Garden: contamination as means for renewal 

The starting point of the Helsinki Biennial 2023 is the anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's thinking and idea about contamination, and how contamination can lead to a new perspective on the world (Esposito Yussif 2023, 40). Contamination means a transformation from something that already was to something to come. "Me" becomes at least a little "other" after each encounter. (Curatolo 2023, 99.) We give space to the other person in our encounters, but at the same time we can also become positively contaminated in the interaction. Then, space can be created for new common worlds. New directions can emerge. (Esposito Yussif 2023, 40.) 

Tsing urges to observe and pay attention to small details that can be invisible. The curator of Helsinki Biennial 2023, Joasia Krysa, points out how inclusivity is the issue in the new directions. It invites people, animals, plants and environments to join the discourse. Krysa names contamination, renewal and agency as the central concepts of the biennial. (Krysa 2023, 15-16.) In the biennial, contamination is related to both contamination and infection (Krysa 2023, 17), and it is the positive effects of them that we want to emphasize in our PHOSfate garden, a space specifically created to allow humans from different cultures and realities, plants, soil types, and animals to meet and to share their traumas. 

The significance of art and gardens can be seen in how they produce and affect the world. Knowledge about the existence of the Sahrawi gardens brings to the surface discourses of identity, trauma, ecology, injustice, in addition to several other discourses which go well beyond the control or intentions of those who manage and maintain the gardens. 

My understanding of the environment is linked not only to nature and its surroundings but also extends to perceptions of social, racial, species-related, and economic justice. The practices of various discourses and disciplines alter the perception of gardens, transforming them from mere sites of rational plant cultivation into something more nuanced and multifaceted. In environmental justice, social and ecological views interlock. They raise issues related to the fair distribution of natural resources, the importance of community, democratic responsibility (Schlosberg 2007, 73) and environmental trauma. 


Shifting identities through performativity: PHOSfate garden as a performative space and a space for conversation art 

Conversation art has an essential connection with the central concept of the Helsinki Biennale, contamination. The primary making process of the PHOSfate Garden is based on conversations between Mohamed Sleiman Labat and myself. We have contaminated each other, of which the garden is a trace. The work is the result of collaboration and contamination. It is possible to define collaboration as art, "a continuous performance whose performers are at the same time their own audience" (Kantonen 2005, 49). When the audience of the Helsinki Biennale walks into the garden area, it is already an invitation to dialogue with the garden, its growth, but also with the artists who take care of the garden. I built and maintained the garden together with Mohamed Sleiman Labat since the beginning of May, which led to conversations with the public visiting the garden. These conversations have been also evolved around the environmental traumas relating to the events that have changed the physical environments in the Baltic Sea region. 


Visitors in the PHOSfate Garden.

The American art historian and critic Grant Kester's concept Dialogical Art refers to a kind of communal art that emphasizes conversation instead of the physical artwork and considers conversation in itself aesthetically interesting (Kantonen 2005, 53). Kester emphasizes dialogue with the audience in dialogical art practices. As a result of the dialogue, the identities of the participants change and move away from their previous positions. (Kantonen 2005, 69.) The importance of the public as part of dialogical art is based on cooperation and the possibility to change together (Kantonen 2005, 69; Kester 2004, 64-65, 84-85). Conversation is a method of artistic work. 

Doing differently and repeating differently are central methods of art and performance. The PHOSfate garden is a place to discuss the politics of food, agriculture, gardening, and extractivism. The resulting conversations are unpredictable. They happen when the artists are watering and taking care of the garden. Raising injustice as the basis of conversation becomes understandable to those who stop in the garden and read the short introductory text by the Helsinki Biennial. 

A conversation between two artists is an event, the growth of plants in the garden is an event, and so is the meeting of the artists with the public. It is possible to think of the events as performances and the garden as an active performer of these events rather than a stage for action. The garden performs. 

Mateusz Salwa has proposed examining artists' gardens with the help of concepts related to performance, instead of including gardens as part of the discourses of architecture or painting. Artists' gardens should be seen as an ongoing, changing, but also partially planned process in which people can participate together with non-human actors. (Salwa 2014, 46.) 

David Crouch has studied how creativity and modifying spaces are essentially related to practices, ways of working and performance (Crouch 2013, 119), which in turn is based on performativity. Instead of focusing on representations when designing gardens and spaces, the interest must be focused on the moments of occurrence, when things and their connections happen and are formed (Crouch 2013, 120-121). “Space, especially a garden, is always uncertain and unstable, always in the process of construction (Crouch 2013, 122.)" It is always related to another and to others. Performativity takes place precisely in these moments and places that mutely suggest us to interfere with the space and its production. 

Gardens change over the years, decades and seasons. Their growth is regulated by biological processes, climate and seasons. A garden never has a finished shape or moment of readiness. The garden will never be the same. Gardens happen. From an anti-anthropocentric point of view, the garden's plants and animals are performers together with the gardeners and the visitors (Salwa 2014, 59). 

Performativity is a method of contemporary art, not just a garden. The PHOSfate garden is above all a communal performative space and, as such, part of art practices and discourses. Performative art emphasizes action and change, also change of ideas. It can relate to prevailing practices and thinking patterns, including to the ontology of art. 

The perspective that we present in the Helsinki Biennial Sandoponic garden is philosophical and political in nature, as identities related to the environment are always political questions. Our Sandoponic garden brings to light the marginalized identities of the Sahrawis as well as the underacknowledged ecological and environmental identities of the Sahara and Baltic Sea. 

The Sandoponic garden in Helsinki Biennial 2023 is a place to understand the consequences of phosphate rock mining in two very distinct locations, in the refugee camps of Sahrawis in the Sahara in Southeast Algeria in the North European Baltic Sea. There is currently no in-depth understanding as to how the mining of phosphate rock has traumatized the Sahrawis in the refugee camps and the communities on the shores of the Baltic Sea. 


Detail in the PHOSfate Garden.


The primary place of resistance in the three gardens I highlight is not just in art. The resistance also takes place in an environmental and horticultural dimension. The three gardens embody a multi-dimensional approach, integrating various levels of action and contemplation, and a commitment to acknowledging injustices, in a method that embraces the poetical. What constitutes wrongdoing can be related to unrecognized identities, or to ecological and environmental damage. In response to the reality of structural violence, environmental and ecological violence, the gardens become a crucial site of counter-resistance. As shown in these cases, gardens have the potential both to produce and to reposition identities and social subjects. 

The Sahrawi gardens in the refugee camps represent a shift in the identities of the Sahrawis living in diaspora. A new oral knowledge and a discourse about horticulture has been developed in the gardens of the refugee camps. The Sahrawi gardens are sites of resistance in the face of the idea that UN food aid is the only solution for the Sahrawi refugee’s nutritional needs. 

The community garden of Jardin Truillot was formed as a place for the community living around the Bataclan theater to deal with the traumas of the aftermath of the terrorist attack. Rest and recovery are two central functions of gardens. The Jardin Truillot garden is a place where the trauma-related narrative can be told and shared without any demand for closure for the healing process. This narrative affects the identity of both the individual and the community. The gardens in Sahrawi refugee camps and the garden in Jardin Truillot are statements about the strength and resilience of the local communities that have faced an unpredictable crisis. 

The PHOSfate garden raises issues of unfair distribution of natural resources, the subjugation of whole populations and ecological areas for economic growth and well-being of some. The PHOSfate Garden is a promise for the future, one that lights up the injustice of two different albeit interlocking realities, the Sahrawis and the Baltic Sea. The PHOSfate garden is a meaningful place to begin a shared struggle against the neglected 

injustices of phosphate rock mining in Western Sahara and the subsequent harm and destruction phosphorus fertilizers have wrought to the marine ecosystem in the Baltic Sea. 

In the community garden of Paris, the Sahrawi family gardens, and in the PHOSfate Garden in Helsinki, conversation is an important tool to connect the gardens with the discourses of art. I argue that these gardens have a connection with art because they manifest resistance to power and they have become meaningful in the context of art. Conversations taking place in the gardens can be classified as conversation art. Gardens have a political dimension in addition to their horticultural level as the gardens challenge misrecognition, subordination, inequity and bring to light the communities whose identities are being disrespected. All the three gardens I’m bringing up are related to performativity and performance as they repeat differently the form and the idea of a garden. The gardens are performative in the sense that their development was only possible at a certain place and time, and under specific and situated conditions. 


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