"The Eye is a Door" Emphasizes the Natural World

Stephanie Kupiec '15 Contributing Writer

As an environmentally conscious citizen, I can often find global perspectives overwhelming and even a bit depressing. Ocean temperatures are on the rise, myriad species are critically endangered and it is not as easy to fix the environment as it is to plant trees in “The Lorax.” Perhaps one of the most foreboding obstacles regarding environmental degradation is rousing citizen participation and societal movement towards more sustainable habits. Focusing on wildlife preserves and “untouched nature” (although practically the whole planet has, in some form or another, been manipulated by human influences), is nonetheless important. It is easy to overlook the nature that lives in our backyards and right under our own feet. Anne Whiston Spirn, author, photographer and professor of landscape architecture at MIT, is currently sharing her artistic and analytic perspective on our “garden world” through her series on display at the Smith College Museum of Art until Aug. 31, 2014. This means you have the whole rest of the semester to appreciate the photography of Spirn (a personal heroine of mine). “The Eye is a Door” exhibit poses questions similar to those found in Spirn’s literary works, including “The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design.” For those who have not yet read it, “The Granite Garden” asks its readers, as well as the architectural and landscape design world, to re-think and re-imagine how they interpret landscape and their surrounding environment. With a special focus on cities, Spirn re-interprets the negative conception of the city and paints it into a granite garden. She writes in “The Granite Garden,” “The city is a granite garden, composed of many smaller gardens, set in a garden world. Parts of the granite garden are cultivated intensively, but the greater part is unrecognized and neglected.” Museum-goers can experience a real-life visual of Spirn’s greatest theories regarding human space and landscapes. Furthermore, Spirn asks what we can learn from the landscape. We can “open these doors” by recognizing smaller details or zooming out to experience the bigger picture, but we must think critically about our landscape so that we may come to a greater understanding of how it works. For Spirn, landscapes can tell stories about culture, science, nature and the human imagination, but we must become aware of our “visual literacy” and “read” what is available in the landscapes. For example, “The Eye is a Door” exhibit features photographs of neighborhoods with a tree-lined sky, a house possibly devastated by a flood and a road running over a man-made canal. Spirn links her theories to everyday landscapes to show her viewers the nature that does exist right in front of them. With this information, architects, scholars and everyday citizens can enter their cities or suburbs with a different lens, a lens that includes the nature that still coexists with human development. In particular, Spirn’s photograph of a tree-lined concrete pathway reminded me of her writings, including one of her most critical messages, which is to truly look at what the landscape is telling you: the natural world still lives here. I highly recommend reading “The Granite Garden,” available through Smith Libraries System, and attending “The Eye is a Door” exhibit. It is an honor and a privilege to experience the work of a brilliant lady leader who is pushing some of the most impressive and revolutionary landscape theories today.