YEAR: 2014
PROFESSOR: Georges Farhat
LOCATION: University of Toronto

Infinite Forest is an interrogation of John Claudius Loudon's Gardenesque theories, and the role of the arboretum. His moralistic conviction of the scientific and instructive capacity of the Gardensque is optimistic, and the succession from the picturesque at the Derby Arboretum is neither abstract nor total enough to truly actualize the arboretum in the way Loudon had achieved in the Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum.  

At Derby, Loudon failed to achieve the dense and naturalistic vibrancy of the picturesque, which the Gardensque did not allow for, yet was also unable to achieve the perfect didactic space which he so heavily advocated. Existing between both possible landscapes, the Derby Arboretum became heterotopic, lending itself to co-option by external forces and fluctuations which eventually would turn Derby into a public space which was neither picturesque park nor a Gardenesque arboretum. 

Infinite Forest is a diorama in the sense that it acts as a miniature version of the Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum. The ellipsoidal walk and picturesque rules of perspective, perception, association, and movement of Derby are all dissolved into linear paths in serial rows demarcated by the trees planted on mounds in the Loudonian style. Mirrored walls recursively reflect the scene, to create an arboretum which continues to the horizon, the expansion of which does not shy away from suggesting infinity. Completely immersed in this space, there is a maximization of Loudon's stated aims for the arboretum, subjecting the viewer into a fully immersive experience along the series of linear and infinite walks, allowing each tree to be considered carefully. The weight of the endlessness of the experience brings a Sisyphean hopelessness to an end of the instruction. The experience of Infinite Forest is total, akin to flipping through the utopic space of the Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum.

Borrowing from Archizoom's maximization of speculative realities in No-Stop City, and the contradictory, but fecund discussion of utopia and heterotopia suggested by Michel Foucault in Of Other Spaces, the Infinite Forest uses both allegory and narrative to express the impossible environment of the Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum. The choice of the encyclopedia over Derby itself is important to exploring the contradictions of the actualized arboretum. As Beryl Hartley describes in Sites of Knowledge and Instruction, “an arboretum large enough to contain a complete collection of every species must have appeared unattainable to Loudon, it seems likely that he came to regard his Arboretum Britannicum as an adequate substitute”. Through the recursive seriality of the Infinite Forest, the limited identities of the physicalized arboretum are made apparent. Derby's ambitions of providing a space for both pleasure and instruction seem at first to be mutually conciliatory, but the final result is one of shared sabotage where neither identity fully compliments the aims of the other, and both languish as possible solutions, creating a sort of unsuccessful heterotopia. 

The same recursion which reveals the mutually limiting identities of the arboretum, also exaggerates the arboretum as a landscape of contradiction. The physicalized arboretum neglects its internal multivalence between the natural and the artificial; its own role as a living museum in which its trees, meant to be instructive of their natural behaviours, are in reality manufactured artifacts. curated under watchful eyes. However, the mirror too is a contradiction, which distorts as much as it reflects the image which it receives.



on mirrors

in other


The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror.

But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am.

The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.