Kate Thomas, “Lesbian Arcadia: Desire and Design in the Fin-de-Siècle Garden”


Thursday, February 18, 2021, 7:30pm to 9:00pm


Harvard Graduate School of Design—Online

At the end of the nineteenth century, British and American lesbian artists settled around Florence, Italy, renovating neglected Renaissance estates. Contemporary accounts describe the hillside region as colonized by a “cult of women.” These women restored, refashioned and theorized gardens as places of queerly mythic erotic encounter.

In this lecture Professor Thomas will explore how design features such as nymphaeums, water parterres, secret gardens, grottos and boscos provided both refuge and open-air expression for lesbian subjectivity. Remembering that the first documented use of the term “sexuality” refers to plants, Professor Thomas puts the fields of landscape architecture and queer theory into conversation, arguing that queer theory needs to build a history of lesbian desire that is animated as much by landscape as by other women. Drawing from recent theory on “vibrant matter” and “plant thinking” that sees land and plants – the non-animal generally – as mobile, sentient and desiring, this lecture will propose that ruined and replanted Italian landscapes shaped modern lesbian relationships to materiality and estate.

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