Filming-gardening in the neoliberal age: ambivalences in the life and work of Anne Charlotte Robertson

Voelcker, Becca. 2022. Filming-gardening in the neoliberal age: ambivalences in the life and work of Anne Charlotte Robertson. Screen, 63(1), pp. 68-91. ISSN 0036-9543 [Article]

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This article discovers politically productive ambivalences in the film, audio, written, and horticultural work of the Massachusetts gardener-filmmaker Anne Charlotte Robertson (1949-2012). Robertson suffered mental health issues throughout adulthood and sought solace by documenting her gardening on film and paper. Such activities were her form of ecotherapy, unlike the hospitalisation and medication she described as 'drug chains.' Using nature as a refuge, and gardening-filmmaking as an alternative, agroecological form of citizenship and lifestyle, was also Robertson's means of resisting the financialisation and social dislocation she felt transform her surroundings during the 1970s and80s. Robertson's work demonstrates a radically inclusive empathy towards her environment. But it reveals more than ecological, personal, and political protest; it is riddled with ambivalences. Robertson's interest in self-help, for example, plays into what we may now recognise as neoliberalism's promotion of individual responsibility. Likewise, her voluntary work in local community gardens critiques an increasingly prevalent emphasis on private property and globalisation, but risks papering over the cracks caused by welfare cuts, by providing vegetables and greenspace for those the cuts hit hardest. Robertson?s refusal to distinguish work from life also exposes a tension between her holistic approach and the pervasive influence of a 'flexible' worker model—that is, what Catherine Malabou identifies as an economically productive subject willing to blend work and life. Robertson?s body of work, and her own body (which she films bingeing, dieting, holding handfuls of Valium, handfuls of seeds),foreground these tensions. Responding to her historical moment, Robertson's work anticipates debates over social and environmental responsibility today.

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22 March 2022Published Online

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06 Feb 2023 10:46

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06 Feb 2023 10:47

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