I seem to be developing an obsession with the Auckland Wintergardens. More particularly, with the interface between flora and architecture, interior and exterior, exhibition and concealment. A few weeks ago, I found myself pondering the display of exotic plants for human entertainment, or:
the human impulse to capture nature and to use our considerable intelligence and skill to maintain species of life in artificial environments made to simulate their own, in order that we may enjoy those species on our own terms. (Nature Confined)
Yesterday, driven from the pavilions by a busload of very noisy tourists, I found myself thinking about the plants pressed up against the building’s exterior windows. From inside, these are the wallflowers, the backdrop to carefully managed displays. They are the hardest-to-reach and the least likely to be stars of the show.
The pavilions themselves are showing their age. Built almost 90 years ago, the Wintergardens are like a once-majestic theatre — still putting on a dazzling show for the visitors, but behind the scenes it’s all starting to look a bit faded.
I’ve always rather liked the theatrical metaphor for life, drawn from the sociology of Erving Goffman (1922-82). The language of theatre makes sense to me as a way of understanding everyday life (performance, audience, script, props, costumes — even the distinctions between front-of-house and back-stage).
And while we each enact personal performances, we do so within our society, where politics, culture and morality are themselves performed. In this social theatre, some people, groups and ideas are given starring roles. Others are marginalised; relegated to the chorus, to non-speaking parts, or even denied the stage altogether.
As both audience and players, it is our responsibility to understand the staged and constructed nature of social life, and not to forget those squeezed to the fringes — only visible if we really look.