Eve Andree Laramee
Parks on Trucks

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Parks on Trucks, Project for the City of Aachen. Topiary truck, 1999

"Parks on Trucks: Project for the City of Aachen" was a collaboration with the bio-geographer, Duane Griffin, consisting of  a series of parks on a fleet of three large, commercial, Mercedes-Benz flat-bed trucks, that circulated through the city of Aachen Germany and were parked in different places on a weekly basis. The project highlights the complex and contradictory relationships between nature and culture in a way that delights the mind and the eye while provoking serious consideration of place, landscape, and the role of historical aesthetic and geographic contingency in the “natural” world and in the meanings we attribute to it.

 Parks represent some of the most “natural” elements in our landscapes, yet they are designed and cultivated, controlled and aestheticized using methods that are clearly “unnatural” and sometimes extremely so.  Parks are particularly interesting because we tend to see them as “sacred spaces,” luxurious romanticizations and fetishizations of nature that are only possible because modern industrial economies buffer us from  the worst of nature's hazards and discomforts. This security and comfort, however, frequently imposes high environmental costs that make it necessary to “rescue” nature from culture by designating and producing parks.

The distinction between nature and culture is arbitrary, and the relationship between them is mediated by political economy. This project used trucks to embody the human transformation of nature, both as artifacts of transformed nature themselves and as the primary means of transport for the circulation of nature, in the form of resources, to urban processing centers where they are transformed into culture. Placing parks on trucks brings these seeming contradictions together for mutual consideration.

There is something that is simultaneously humorous, sardonic, radical, and reverential about this gesture.  The hybridization of these apparent opposites foregrounds the interconnectedness of things and begins to dissolve the comfortable autonomy we try to impose on nature and culture, art and science. This is not, however, an effort to reconcile opposites . Rather we used art and science to deploy nature (plants, soil, water, and biochemical processes) and culture (topiary forms, sculpture, agricultural crops and history), mediated and transported by political economy (trucks, road networks) to blur polarities, to engage in discourses, to dissolve and refigure boundaries.

A ten meter long truck was planted with a topiary garden as a reference to “artificial nature”. Another truck  is planted with medicinal and poisonous plants. The third truck, planted with a small crop of corn, pollutes the environment and cleans the air at the same rate.  By equating carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by the corn plants growing on the back of the truck with the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere as exhaust as the truck moves from location to location around the city. Dr. Griffin monitored the growth of the plants and calculated the distance the truck was driven in order to balance the carbon dioxide inputs and outputs: one third of a kilometer in three months. This truck focused attention on the nature of biogeochemical cycles, issues related to global warming, and the complexity of human impacts on the environment. The project also raised issues about corporate “greenwashing”, where companies such as Mercedes-Benz, the manufacturer of these trucks use nature images in their advertising strategies.