JARDINS D'AMIS - The Order of Friendship

...In the last years Caroline Bittermann has been working on the series Jardins d’amis, which now comprises more than 150 portraits. Inspired by a deep and abiding interest in landscape and nature as cultural categories, and above all in the garden as a metaphorical space, she weaves an intricate web of themes and images that can be combined and recombined in many different ways. The portrayed subjects include friends, family members and fellow artists, but also people whom Bittermann does not know personally yet are important to her for other reasons, for example because of their artistic or scientific achievements. The accumulation of these portraits thus creates a combined image of actual and perceived affinities that includes, for example, the profiles of Marcel Broodthaers, Charles Darwin, Hannah Arendt and Maria Sibylla Merian. Bittermann develops this portrait series around external and internal dialogues. The former are real dialogues that have taken place between the artist and those portrayed, on the basis of which she assembles visual material on a computer screen. These pictorial composites are then translated into painted images that are shown inside the profile of the subject’s head. The internal dialogues, on the other hand, provide the starting point for pictures of individuals Bittermann does not know personally or who are already deceased, although such dialogues may also determine her portraits of friends or acquaintances to a certain extent...

...When – for Jardins d’amis – Caroline Bittermann groups together portraits of people to whom she feels a connection, this is about more than mere accumulation. She is in fact revealing the web of relationships within which she locates herself and her artistic practice. The motifs depicted inside the profile heads are often drawn from her extensive pictorial archive, which consists primarily of images she has researched on the internet but also contains pictures photographed from books and other found images. In some cases, however, an idea for a portrait and the preoccupation with a particular individual generate new collections of images or prompt the artist to take her own photographs, which then become the starting point of her painting. ‘Nature’ and landscape as constructs of cultural processes are the central theme of Jardins d’amis – reflecting not only Caroline Bittermann’s own keen interest in such topics but also the primary concerns of many of those portrayed. The dream of a ‘wild’, untouched natural environment that gives people a sense of belonging is frequently contrasted by the awareness of its constructedness and vulnerability. The question of how landscape is shaped by technological developments and architecture – in other words, what form of design is required to open up utopian spaces, is another important theme in Jardins d’amis.

From 1995 to 2004, in collaboration with Peter Duka, Caroline Bittermann carried out artistic investigations into nature and landscape as cultural categories – above all with respect to gardens and parks – and as pictorial representations. By transforming virtual landscapes and architectural structures that had been developed on a computer screen into painting, their work examined the construction of pictorial space and above all explored the relationship between the materiality and virtuality of images. This collaboration with Peter Duka culminated in the creation of an actual park in Remagen: from 2002 onwards, the Geheime Gärten Rolandswerth were developed on a site close to the Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck. The park’s design concept was determined not only by the artists’ investigations into the history of garden and park culture but also by their keen interest in the aesthetic theory of German Romanticism. Jardins d’amis is a continuation of this work by other means: by visually condensing the themes and aesthetic issues addressed by her art into the individual images of Jardins d’amis, Bittermann is compiling a very specific archive of her own interests that goes beyond the work’s character as a portrait gallery...

Christine Heidemann (from: JARDINS D'AMIS : RANDONNEES.
Aus dem Gartenarchiv der Caroline Bittermann, Salon Verlag Cologne, Germany, 2015)