Monday, 21 May 2018 08:17

Explore Les Jardins d’Étretat, an open air museum of contemporary art

    The main terrace of Les Jardins d’Étretat sits on the famous cliff d’Amont. At this unique place, Claude Monet spent many long hours working on his canvases – a series of paintings and sketches based on ‘Les Falaises d’Étretat’. The connoisseurs and lovers of art from across the globe travel here for inspiration. This terrace is a magnet for artists, garden aficionados, nature, architecture and art lovers, as well as the admirers of Claude Monet’s work and successors to the master painter.

    Visitors to Normandy will find their impassioned thoughts, moods and feelings echoed in its eternal beauty, as they delight in the surrounding landscape views and myriad of colours of the Étretat cliffs.

    The major architectural trends we are witnessing today are an attempt to revive the optimism and restore faith in a better, more ecologically-aware future of our planet, where technology and cutting-edge scientific advancements will serve for the benefit of humankind and the natural world. The Neo-Futurism of the 21st century (such is the name given to a leading artistic movement of our time) is essentially different from all the preceding movements through its evolutionary approach. It closely follows technological developments in a variety of fields, including art and architecture amongst them.

    This avant-garde movement of the late 20th to early 21st century was the brainchild of the urbanist architects proclaiming that everyday human activities should comfortably run in a user-oriented infrastructure, which should take precedence over any other considerations. This movement is grounded in the principles of expediency, minimalism, sustainability, ethics and technological efficiency. Its leading representatives are the Architects Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Santiago Calatrava and the Designer Vito di Bari.

    The principles of Neo-Futurism have rapidly spread across the fields of art, sculpture, architecture, machine building, the fashion industry, cinema and even literature. The burgeoning popularity of this movement has been spurred on by technological advancements and innovations, which have created a host of opportunities carrying the potential of turning Neo-Futuristic ideas into reality. However, they spread through the field of the garden and landscape design at a much slower pace – all due to the fragility and vulnerability of the plants – the fact that poses the biggest challenge to the designers wishing to create trimmed sculptural plant compositions. Such compositions offer a new material for architectural and spatial planning of the gardens of the future.

    Alexander Grivko and his team of landscape architects from landscape design company Il Nature drew inspiration from the life of Claude Monet and the story of the garden’s foundress Madame Thébault. They re-conceptualised and restructured the garden in 2015. The historical plant compositions being restored, Les Jardins d’Étretat expanded its boundaries and enriched them with new imagery. The merit of this project lies in an harmonious combination of the old historical garden with contemporary architectural and aesthetic ideas, eventually resulting in a Neo-Futuristic object.

    The gardens feature over 150,000 plants. This is a veritable experimental laboratory, where the main task is to search out and test new technologies for plant care, and to experiment with trimmed plant shapes. The garden space is shaped by the massive compositions of trimmed plants, whose forms embody the landscapes and the natural world of Normandy. The plants are moulded into different shapes, such as the ‘waves’ of the English Channel, ‘sea’ spirals and whirlpools, ‘oyster farms’, ‘rocks and arches’ of the Alabaster Coast and much else. Les Jardins d’Étretat is not only the attempt to showcase the biodiversity and natural beauty of the ecosystem, but also the opportunity to demonstrate new architectural methods in the art of landscaping.

    Les Jardins d’Étretat is an open-air museum of contemporary art under the skies of Normandy. The museum features a unique collection of art objects. An unusual combination of trimmed plants and contemporary sculptures communicate striking individuality to the gardens and set the atmosphere. All this combined, Les Jardins d’Étretat represents the art of gardening at its best and occupies a special place in the field of garden landscaping.

    The museum display consists of permanent and temporary expositions. The permanent collection of contemporary sculpture is an indispensable architectural core of the garden, whose main message, artistic integrity, dramaturgy and general ambience would be lost without these sculptural highlights. This exposition brings to focus the striking individuality of Les Jardins d’Étretat in the world of landscaping art.

    Temporary exhibitions of contemporary sculpture coincide with the annual summer season launches at Les Jardins d’Étretat. The major goal of these exhibitions is to develop a social, natural and artistic milieu aimed to stimulate creativity, improve ethical values, preserve the environment and protect historical and cultural heritage.

    This experiment in garden and park architecture turns it into a most innovative type of contemporary art. The outstanding talent of the creator of Les Jardins d’Étretat, – the Architect and Landscape Designer, Alexandre Grivko – has manifested itself through the innovative approach to linear and spatial compositional arrangements, which flow artistically into the infinity, without beginning or end. Through balancing abstract trimmed plants arrangements and their volume, the author demonstrates his loyalty to Neo-Futuristic principles in his work. His ideas have already found their devotees and followers.

    Grivko maintains that the landscape surrounding a person is an extension of this person’s inner self. Therefore, his major goal is working on a precisely set volume, by avoiding excessive graphic linearity or bright colour palettes. The leading principle for all his creations is defined by the position of a person in space and by his or hers subsequently experienced states of self-awareness, striving for harmony, and absolute visual comfort. The philosophical leitmotif running through Grivko’s creations is the transience of time, which must be perceived, accepted and understood, whilst one is looking back to the garden’s past history.

    New advanced planting technologies and plant care methods have given the author a freedom to create trimmed compositions in large sculptural groups, where plants serve as material for unique sculpted living forms. They possess their own “breath and plasticity”, evoking the qualities of a stone through firmness and heaviness, plasticine – through softness and elasticity, rubber – through flexibility and lightness.

    The bionic architecture at Les Jardins d’Étretat is represented by the vivid texture of evergreen, trimmed plant compositions, evocative of the Normandy landcapes. This unique artistic material shapes into a new organised space, which charms with its rigour and weightlessness, conjuring up the sense of timelessness, calm and personal cosmos.

    The historical, artistic and architectural significance of Les Jardins d’Étretat lies in the bold adherence to individual principles of Neo-Futurism, and through joining the garden compositions into a single large-scale Neo-Futuristic object. In this manner, the art of the future keeps apace with the time, mirroring present stages in the cultural advancement of humanity.


    Jardin Avatar

    The garden is set at the entrance to Les Jardins d’Étretat. Avatar was also the title for the keeper of the universe, permeating it with his divine presence. Jardin Avatar is a gateway leading beyond the bounds of reality, into the magical surrealism. Even the trees can make their own music there. Strikingly trimmed plants beckon the visitor to step into a fairytale where everyone finds their own path towards their own Avatar.


    Clockwork Forest

    The art installation ‘Clockwork Forest’ was created by the British ‘Greyworld’ collective, which specialises in producing interactive art in public spaces. The Clockwork Forest is the first chapter of the new fairytale yet-to-be-told. Turn the key, and a clockwork melody shall accompany your every step, as you wander through this magical garden.



    The gigantic trunk of the old oak tree serves as material for the German Sculptor Thomas Rösler. The tool marks left on the wooden surface narrate the story of its creation.


    Sea Shell

    This installation, made from a plastic membrane by St. Petersburg Artist Alena Kogan was commissioned especially for Les Jardins d’Étretat. The installation transforms a clifftop into a seabed, instantly changing our viewing angle and re-calibrating the scale of our surroundings.


    Jardin Émotions

    The Jardin Émotions has been modelled on the first French oyster farm owned by Queen Marie-Antoinette, which historically lies at the foot of Les Jardins d’ Étretat in the waters of the English Channel. The vision of the ocean floor became the main inspiration for this garden. The trimmed plants echo the landscapes of the underwater world and the oysters’ habitat. It is also a home to the set of sculpted expressive faces. The sculptures capture the whole range of emotions symbolising various ‘moods’ of the ocean and its inhabitants.


    Drops of Rain

    These seven sculptures by the Spanish Artist Samuel Salcedo were made from a mixture of polyester resin and aluminium powder and reveal a wide range of human emotions.

    The artist has captured and conveyed the most unpredictable and unexpected emotional expressions, such as the lips awaiting a kiss, or a displeasure hidden in the sulky pout, signs of fatigue or satisfaction, pain or pleasure. The interpretation of each mood is predominantly in the eye of the beholder.


    Jardin Impressions

    Jardin Impressions is the heart of Les Jardins d’Étretat. The garden opens up the legendary spectacular historical panorama of the ocean and the cliffs of Étretat, which had inspired the great artists of the past. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet and Vasily Polenov – all came here to paint. The trimmed plant compositions seem to embody the tides and ebbs of the English Channel, enhancing the effect of immersing into its waters.


    Claude Monet

    The sculpture of Claude Monet is made of entirely natural materials and is part of ‘The Tree Hugger Project’. It has been commissioned especially for Les Jardins d’Étretat and points back to the landscapes and views of the cliffs of Étretat, painted by the founder of Impressionism in the late 19th century.


    Lounge stones

    Imagine wandering deep into the forest and clinging with your entire body to it. This is the sensation experienced by the viewers looking at these soft, round ‘lounge stones’.


    Jardin d’Aval

    Jardin d’Aval is a meeting and relaxation point for the garden’s visitors. It was inspired by the fairytale Alice in Wonderland. The garden is magically surrounded by fanciful plants and numerous yew arches symbolising the famous Aval Cliff of Étretat. Jardin d’Aval boasts a rich collection of orchids which enhance the surrealist effect through their unusual colours and shapes.


    The Tree Hugger Project

    This environmental project by Viktor Szostalo came into life as a humorous attempt at illustrating ‘100 Ways to Hug a Tree and Not to Look Stupid’. The sculptures on display were made from fallen tree branches and wood waste. The artist’s ‘wicker people’ hugged trees in seven countries around the world. However, after taking part in the UN World Climate Summit, the project took on more serious ecological overtones. How long will the people living on earth feel connected with nature?


    Jardin Zen

    Jardin Zen embodies the harmony between man and nature. Only the plants with white blossoms grow here, instilling into a viewer a sense of the virginal purity and unity of man and nature. The garden features a sound installation, which is meant to reawaken the deepest sentiments of goodness. In this manner, one discovers new ways of perceiving the world through art.


    Until the Word is Gone

    The installation by the Russian Artist Sergey Katran features an array of terracotta sculptures shaped as the sound waves of the word ‘art’ uttered in 125 languages. The author transforms a spoken word into a visible tangible object, offering his own new reading within the boundaries of contemporary art. The sound installation is produced by the Artist ::vtol:: (also known as Dmitry Morozov), the Neo-Babylonian Dialogue, and offers the rare opportunity to hear the word ‘art’ pronounced in 125 languages by the Linguist Villy Melnikv and Artist Sergey Katran.


    Jardin La Manche

    This garden is the centre point of Les Jardins d’Étretat. It is composed of mazes made of large-scale trimmed plants, evocative of the troubled waves of the ocean. The silvery leaves in the plant compositions resemble the sea foam on the crests of the storming waves crashing against the cliffs of Étretat. Jardin La Manche is admired for its ability to inspire vivid emotions in visitors. When falling into the maelstrom of the tempestuous element, one wishes to find an escape from it ‘by staying alive’.


    Jardin d’Amont

    Jardin d’Amont towers majestically above Les Jardins d’Étretat. The plants morph into cliffs and merge with the shoreline of the horizon. They imitate the rocky layers of the White Cliffs of the Normandy Alabaster Coast and astonish with their mathematical precision and geometric simultaneity. The terrace of Jardin d’Amont is the highest vantage point of Les Jardins d’Étretat, overlooking the enchanting landscape from a bird’s eye view.

    Les Jardins d’Étretat possess a unique botanical characteristic. Throughout all four seasons of the year, they retain their appearance and remain evergreen. Owing to advanced scientific methods, the garden has learned to resist the wind rose and withstand constant sea breezes, thus, preserving the sculptural shape of the fragile trimmed plants.

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