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About the book

Transformed Garden
A Forward by *George Lellis

hm-bookTransformed Garden embodies the 20th-century condition whereby scientists digitize the organic, manufacturers standardize and mass produce the biological, and farmers introduce their compost to technology. In the transformed garden, heirloom vegetables grow side by side with productive hybrids. The garden at once comforts us in its evocation of past agricultural bounty and frightens in its recognition that earth may have become a planet without frontiers or wilderness, in which farms are within cities rather than beyond the suburbs. The book’s discourse is nonetheless optimistic: its one human-made object is a bridge, an image whose accompanying words suggest that the free and natural condition for humans involves extending one’s boundaries beyond obstacles to allow for the flow of ideas and feelings. This optimistic celebration of the natural world is both like a map and a calendar.

The blocks of a grid are interchangeable.
Landmarks create narrative.
Alleys and secret passageways also break the grid.

I peruse the pages of Transformed Garden. The experience is like picking up a mysterious map and guidebook to a vaguely recognizable city or a calendar for an earth-like planet that orbits at its own rate around a different sun. I have seen many of these pictures before in earlier visits to the Rogala studio, but with their configuration into sequences and grids, with their poetic signage in multiple languages, with I study the grid of computer-manipulated photographs of tomatoes, uneasily wondering whether these are portraits of many different tomatoes or different views and rescramblings of images of a single fruit. Like blocks of a city, the images look similar, but each is also unique. The garden transforms itself into neighborhoods as I move through the pages—Tomatotown, Little Cabbage Patch, Sunflower City. Imagining these pages as a book is like walking through streets of a Calvino-like imaginary city, streets that change direction, width, and slope as I move from one district, one ethnic area, one market or mall to another, one fruit to another vegetable. The occasional agro-urban landmark breaks the grid, gives the walk direction or purpose, while the progression from neighborhood to neighborhood begins to tell a story about the bounty that surrounds us, if we only take the chance to attend to it.

A grid creates blocks.
Blocks create addresses.
Addresses create a city.

In a world transformed by technology, the archetypal garden of Eden, already tamed into “garden” status rather than “wilderness” status, should perhaps become the “city” of Eden. Transformed Garden suggests that the return to Eden will be found not in the rejection of technology, but in the exploration and celebration of both nature and technology to integrate humans creatively and productively into their environment. The “artwords” referred to on the book’s cover glorify the beauty of the everyday and implicitly urge us to preserve it. The grids become multiscreen surveillance videos of the apple orchard or the tomato bed.

One of Miroslaw Rogala’s favorite lines of poetry is from French writer Francis Ponge, where the latter writes about trees, “They can express themselves only by their postures.” Rogala’s modified images of plums, pears, or corn allow these organic products of nature to express themselves, but also allows them to adopt new postures, new expressiveness. Where Ponge says, in his immediately preceding line, “A tree’s reach cannot exceed its grasp,” Jim Rohn creates an unintentional paraphrase: “Like the tree, it would be a worthy challenge for us all to stretch upward and outward to feel the measure of our capabilities.” Can a sunflower reach? Can a lemon grasp? Does the wheat stretch?

On a different metaphoric level, one related to time, these grids of garlic cloves, ginger roots, and trees suggest a strange new fifteen-month, nine-day-a-month calendar. For what indeed is a calendar but not a map? Doesn’t the calendar chart the path of time for the year it represents? Like the square city block, each day is a square, each square is alike, and the squares that make up the month form a grid. But each same-sized calendar square can have its own its own patron saint or feast day, its own penciled-in reminders of bills to be paid or appointments to be kept, its own distinguishing markers.

Calendars structure our sense of past, present, and future. The classic still life of fruits and vegetables is seasonal, and suggests transition, impermanence, and potential decay. The landscapes or seasonal pictures on a traditional calendar invoke not the particularity of a single year’s February or August, but rather the sense of cycle. The archetypal calendar picture is nostalgic, and there is in Transformed Garden’s fruits and vegetables a similar longing for the traditional world of spring greening, summer ripening, autumn plentitude, and winter calm.

When I save an old calendar, I preserve a piece of the past, especially if I have marked it all year with notes for meetings, birthdays, and trips. When I put up a new calendar, I imagine the future as a reprise of the past patterns of nature combined with anticipation of future events. Transformed Garden grew out of a personal desire by its sponsor, Lidia Greszta, to honor her experience of knowing and working with Jim Rohn. She enlisted the aid of her friend and confidant, Miroslaw Rogala, to create a map-calendar as a celebration of Rohn’s wisdom.

Some photographs, paintings, and portraits celebrate the world as it was at the time the picture was created. Others look forward to possible new worlds open for exploration or creation. In their respective homages to traditional still life and the values of hard work and community, Miroslaw Rogala and Jim Rohn create an artwork that looks both back to tradition in calm pleasure and ahead to innovation in energetic expectation.

*George Lellis is a Professor of Communication at Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina. He is author of Bertolt Brecht, Cahiers du Cinema, and Contemporary Film Theory (UMI Research Press, 1982), and coauthor, with George Wead, of The Film Career of Buster Keaton (G.K. Hall, 1978) and Film: Form and Function (Houghton Mifflin, 1982). His most recent book, Volker Schlondorff’s Cinema: Adaptation, Politics, and the “Movie-Appropriate” (Southern Illinois University Press, 2002), cowritten with Hans-Bernhard Moeller, is due to be published in an updated German translation in 2010. He has written several articles on the work of Miroslaw Rogala, and is currently working with Rogala on the libretto for an interactive multi-media opera entitled DEL+CTRL+ALT.