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Strasbourg, June 2016

Apollonia’s garden in Robertsau – Strasbourg

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Translated by David Mardell

To turn a piece of abandoned land into a social playground

Not far from the European institutions, Apollonia noticed a piece of abandoned land. This small plot of around 4000sq.m was for a many years the bowling green of the Robertsau. Being at the entrance to this suburb, it was a sort of showcase. In the past it was a lively area where the inhabitants gathered to play boule together. It has of late become rather desolate. Even though it is now fallow, it nevertheless retains its potential as an important area for life in the Robertsau. For this reason, Apollonia decided to take it over within the Artecitya project.

This suburb was for many years Strasbourg’s market garden. It welcomed no fewer than 117 families cultivating fruit and vegetables at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately things have declined to such an extent that there are nowadays only two families active in the field. So it seemed essential to us to move into this historical site. We have therefore opened a partnership with a family of market gardeners, the Horneckers. We will set up an artistic kitchen garden where the local inhabitants can also join in. The land, leased to Apollonia by the city of Strasbourg for three years, is thus destined to become a lively area where both youngsters. The older generation will be able to share their passion for gardening.

The plot is in fact highly desirable building land, so Apollonia cannot envisage taking it over permanently. So that leaves us with quite a challenge: a fairly big project that will have to be carried out in a relatively short time. The garden will be planned and built so that it can be moved. This leads us to develop new technical and practical means to enable a future transferal of the garden elsewhere. But, no worry, if this garden is to be short-lived, the project itself will be long-lasting. It will be transferred close by and will always be connected to the association’s premises. Evolving in form and in space and adapting to socio-artistic aims are indeed among our chief objectives. For this reason, together with our partners, we are studying up-to-date layout techniques of building movable, transformable and transportable garden structures.

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A garden opened to everyone

But the project will require wide participation.All the citizens of Strasbourg will be invited to dig, sow, cultivate, harvest and share the fruits of their participation around a good hot meal. Citizen participation is envisaged throughout the entire project; volunteers will be able to join in establishing the paths, the plots and the upkeep of the garden, as well as planting and harvesting fruit and vegetables.

In addition to the participative garden, the project also opens up scope for artistic operations. There will be concerts, theatre shows, talks and coffee-shop philosophy meetings. The whole scheme will moreover be a field for experiments by artists. Calls for projects will be made over the year offering artists a new exhibition space. Their work will thus be directly linked to Apollonia’s artistic undertakings. Exhibitions in the garden are planned from the opening this June. It will begin with an installation by Vladimir Skoda. Skoda, a renowned Czech sculptor. The artist will honour the project with works specially designed for the garden this month. Later, in September, Philippe Obliger, a botanical artist, will present work evolving around scented and exotic flowers in the garden. 

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Civic services discovering the Hornecker’s place

Seven civic services enrolled since December to boost the project. Beyond being an area for artistic and social activity, the garden will also help create jobs. It will become a haven for proposing innovative, more humane, economic solutions. We further aim to offer organic products for sale in a refreshing and relaxing meeting spot in the shade of the fruit trees. In these trying economic times for cultural life, owing notably to the decrease in public subsidies, the provision of finance will necessarily have to depend on innovative models. For example, alongside the mutual urban fund established by Apollonia to finance urban planning, a restaurant will enable us to fund certain projects.

Partnerships have already been set up with the historic market gardeners of the Robertsau as well as with the Strasbourg National Higher School of Architecture (ENSAS). Those will enable us to set up weekly workshops to create adjustable structures to be installed in the garden. Financial partnerships are of course necessary for such a project. We are further endeavouring to develop material exchanges. Gifts of raw materials to build the various structures and promote artistic research are naturally of prime importance.