Untangling a garden

an artistic research project weaving histories of two gardens in Slovenia and Egypt
from 2020 -
To support the project, contact me at neja (at) ne-ja.com

Untangling a Garden combines the imaginations of two parks: one of the first exotic parks in Slovenia (Rafutski Park) and the imaginary park of the so-called “Alexandria women” in Alexandria. Both parks emerged in the first half of the 20th century during a period of intense relations and migration between the two countries.

Rafutski Park is a property around the so-called Egyptian villa, built in neo-Islamic style by Anton Laščak, a Slovenia-born architect who worked in Egypt as the chief architect of Abbas Hilmi II. The park was long abandoned and grew into a paradise garden with many overgrown exotic and invasive plants.

In contrast, the park in Alexandria was a small garden where regional vegetables, most notably a salad green indigenous to the region back home, were grown for the community of Slovenian women, the so-called “Alexandria women.”  They came in thousands from poor and rural areas, mainly from towns in the region around Trieste port. They migrated to Alexandria to work in various professions of care: as nannies, wet nurses, chaperones, and gouvernants.

Untangling a Garden is an artistic research project dedicated to Rafutski Park, interweaving stories from its history with its botany, and unravelling the imagination related to the park, as well as to the intense period of exchanges between Slovenia and Egypt at the turn of the 20th century and in the first half of the 20th century. The starting point of the research is the botanical archaeology of the park, i.e. the historical, cultural, mythological and symbolic aspects of plants. The project links them with historical and social changes (such as the history of women's migration in care work, the exchange of plants between Egypt and Alexandria, the roles of plants and food in the communities of that time and today, architectural impact, etc.)

Untangling a Garden seeks to unravel the threads of the rich cultural exchanges between Egypt and Slovenia, but above all, it seeks to outline the rich and complex lives of plants through research, performance and community events in Rafutski Park.


Solo works: 

A performative planting of the Solkan radicchio at the Pistoletto Foundation in Biella, 2022. 

Installation view of Caravan: Thinking with Alexandria, Cittadelarte, Biella 2022. Photo: Annalisa Zegna. 

“Untangling a garden”
a 4-channel sound installation presented in exhibitions in Ljubljana, Aarhus, Athens, Alexandria and Marseille, 2022-23.

Installation view of Caravan: Thinking with Alexandria, Kunsthal Aarhus, 2023. Photo: Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen. Courtesy of Kunsthal Aarhus.

Installation view in Cukrarna, 2023. Photo: Elena Biserna.

“Untangling a garden”
a performance-in-progress in Cukrarna, Ljubljana, as part of the opening events of the to)pot festival of sound walking, 2023.

Untangling a garden, Cukrarna, photo: Blaž Vurnik
Untangling a garden, performance in Cukrarna, Ljubljana, 2023. Photos: Blaž Vurnik

Field events with the Nonument Group:

Laščak in Alexandria”, a lecture by Mohamed Adel Dessouki on the architecture of Laščak in Egypt, 2022.

Vila Rafut” a guided tour of the park with Miloš Kosec, Ana Kučan and Kaja Širok and the Association for the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of Alexandria Women, 2022.