Representing continuity and momentum, departure and return, encounter and its integration, the figure of the spiral or helix is a compelling one that is written into the body and the natural universe as much as it is into some of human history’s most enduring stories. “We say the Earth has a circular orbit around the sun, but of course it doesn’t,” novelist Ursula Le Guin once wrote, “The sun moves too. You never come back to the same place, you just come back to the same point on the spiral.”
The form features prominently in Ruth Buchanan’s new commission for the public gardens of the Mönchengladbach unemployment centre as a pink, spiral staircase that winds up to a bridge connecting the park with the surrounding neighbourhood. The spiral forms one of several occasions for embodied encounter that A Garden with Bridges (spine, stomach, throat, ear) hopes to create through its four bespoke sculptural interventions, each of which is characterised as an organ with a unique function. The yellow ear, with its deep, scalloped stairs that double as seating, forms another bridge; a turquoise verandah is the stomach, offering a community kitchen space; and a purple accessibility ramp, the spine, is an entryway into the gardens that bypasses the building’s Nazi architecture. These components were devised by Buchanan as a gesture to the garden as living organism, a gathering space for the wider social body of Mönchengladbach, and a corrective to its fraught history as a former Hitler Youth centre. After almost five years of development with The New Patrons initiative—a project that invites citizens to commission public artworks that address local social issues—the work was opened to the public on 7 May.