“An elevated garden growing at the sound of falling water. A water recovery system, a garden constructed with the local biotope, a free social meeting space, an architecture to reflect on the element of water and its cultural and social resonances.” With these words French artist, Lucas Grandin, describes the project Le Jardin Sonore de Bonamouti made within the framework of the Salon Urbain de Douala (SUD), a tri-annual festival for public art designed and organised by Doual’art, center for contemporary art in Douala, Cameroon.
At each triennial, a theme is selected to provide a framework for the artistic interventions and for this year’s SUD the guiding topic was ‘water’. Having grown from a couple of small villages on the banks of the Wouri river, Douala has always had an important relationship with water. Based on this, Grandin’s Jardin Sonore holds a direct relation to the city’s origins and present conditions : “this structure was made to reveal the why of the city of Douala: a water city where you can’t see or feel the water anywhere. Douala is a city where it rains in one hour what it rains in my country in one year, and where the rain is never recovered. ” Hence, through this structure the artist intends to offer the community a free meeting place in Bonamouti where people can regain conscience of the importance of water in their lives, “to give back Douala its right to water”. This is a space where people can go “to rest with the water’s melody, to smell the flowers, to see the Wouri river and its original mangrove, to feel the wind of nature... a new social area to talk, to plant, to listen, to re-create new inter-generational communication through the garden.”
The physical structure of the garden is made out of 7 cubes of 2m15 by 2m15, 8m with the roof system, 40m2 on three levels. Regarding the watering process Grandin explains : “…[in the Jardin Sonore] water is collected from natural rainfall and stocked in 8 barrels of 250 liters which in the past had been used to import sugar from Arabia. Then the water is offered to the vertical garden through transparent tubes using a hydroponic dripping system. Drops of water drip into cans of different sizes producing food and creating different kinds of sounds, or notes, that are directly conducted by the plants different needs of water.”
As Grandin recalls, this place used to be a garbage dump. “At the beginning the inhabitants of the city didn't really understand what the ‘white’ people were building in their space (Kamiel Verschuren and Xandra Nibbeling from ICU art projects came later to help with the building), but after daily talks they began to understand what the ‘white’ people were doing and began to invest in the space. Now, nine months after the creation of Jardin Sonore of Bonamouti “this is really is a new kind of space... the free aspect just began to grow, and people began to take part in the garden. Two boys of the block have been appointed responsible for the dripping system, coming twice per day to water the garden with the sound system and survey the plants. Two times per week, Eli who lives just behind the garden, comes to read some art books (given by Doual'art and other associations) to the young people of Bonamouti. ” The fact that nine months later the garden is still intact and no single part of it has been stolen, removed or vandalised signals that the people “respect and know what they win in social terms with this structure.”
This has been precisely the most significant outcome of Grandin’s participation in SUD 2010. As the artist asserts, “the most beautiful thing is to have the possibility to develop real art pieces with real social impact. Moreover, the SUD crystalizes a moment where people meet in reflection/creation on/of the big question of the relationship between identity and culture.”
The official inauguration of the Jardin Sonore of Bonamouti will take place the 4th of December along with a series of public art projects created for the Salon Urbain de Douala 2010.