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Film: Five Seasons with Piet Oudolf

Film still from Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf. 2017.

The opening of the High Line in New York City seems like it was just yesterday. Located along the West Side of Manhattan, the botanical revival of this derelict rail line into a new public park was brought about by gardener Piet Oudolf, who placed an intricate network of plant beds throughout an elevated, hollowed structure. Oudolf’s renderings within this contrived, and somewhat artificial landscape, transformed a vacant rusty steel frame into a long stretch of green that extends along New York City’s 10th Avenue, from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street.

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, directed by Thomas Piper, travels to Oudolf’s home in the Netherlands where gardens are an art form. Through many interviews while traversing different types of landscapes in the United States, England and the Netherlands, Five Seasons reveals Oudolf as an artist whose color palette consists of plants that grow, bloom and fade at alternating times throughout each year.

Although the success of the High Line comes up frequently throughout the film, with spoken reflections by the artist and praise by curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, this particular detailed representation of Oudolf’s working process, his studio, garden and off-site research methods, lead up to Hauser & Wirth’s plans for Durslade — a set of remote farm houses, located outside of London, where the gallery has built an extensive residency program.

Film still from Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf. 2017.

Over the course of four seasons, Piper utilizes time-lapse video to show the balanced effect of seasonal changes that Oudolf employs throughout his landscape designs in order to show how his work becomes an ever-evolving object of art. “The landscape you dream of,” claims Oudolf, “you will never find in the wild.” He also sees a similarity between garden plants and contemporary artists, who struggle for their own identity. Oudolf, however, coordinates every element throughout his gardens in order to create a regular cycle of colorful, then faded, plants followed by the process of decay before returning to color once again.

Film still from Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf. 2017.

As soon as Oudolf perfected the annual schedule of natural plant colors, he began to approach the garden as a stage that would be designed to let plants perform. The gardener’s hypothesis has so far proven successful and functions as a metaphor for culture. The fifth season in Five Seasons takes place in the early Autumn, just prior to the late portion of the season, when the film begins. This movie unveils the intricate planning, and numerous collaborations, that are required to create a self-evolving — and somewhat ephemeral — art work.

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf (2017) by Thomas Piper opens at IFC Center in New York on June 13th.

Jill Conner, New York