Her exhibitions and critical essays center on the aesthetics and meaning of the ruderal: the systems and species adapted to disturbance. This work daylights the role of surplus materials and energy in the metamorphosis of meaning of gardens and landscapes. Recent work includes The Elusina Lazenby Experimental Forest, an installation that draws attention to the lenses through which we interpret and represent landscapes, and Borjomi: Typical Sections in Atypical Places, a multidisciplinary ecological arts program interpreting the health landscapes of the southern Caucasus. She is Associate Professor of Practice in the School of Architecture at USC in Los Angeles and is the co-founder with Jesse Vogler and Wato Tsereteli of ISTHMUS, a platform to construct textual geographies, provoke new landscape rituals, and inhabit the geological time of Transcaucasia. Her writing is featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine and The Archive of Transition, a collection of photographs and essays on post-Soviet culture and urbanism of Tbilisi. At The Ohio State University, she co-organized “THIS IS A TEST”, an international symposium on the role of testing and prototyping in contemporary landscape architecture practice. She has held visiting positions at Washington University and was a Fulbright Scholar in Georgia. In practice with Tom Leader Studio, she coordinated design of the US Consulate in Guangzhou, China, and several large-scale urban redevelopment projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cowles received her MLA from Harvard University’s GSD and her BFA from the California College of the Arts.
A garden of restitution
After the Rose Revolution in 2003, Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration implemented criminal justice reforms that led to massive increase of the nation’s prison population, and physical torture of prisoners and deadly riots. These abuses came to light in 2012 in a series of videos depicting torture and abuse at Gldani Prison #8, located in the northeast edge of the Gldani Microdistrict.
While the state does not lack for architectural spaces to meter justice and punishment – police stations, prisons, courts, gulags – none exist to host discourses of justice and restitution. The theme of “Buildings are Not Enough” is thus threaded through the the architecture of justice and punishment. Social isolation and physical containment by prison architecture is both “not enough” and “too much”, as extrajudicial punishment within the carcareal system unleashes waves of recursive violence; the released prisoner hosts the virus of state violence, transmitted outside the walls and into the home and society in a feedback loop.
In the “5 dots” prison tattoo, the dot in the center represents the prisoner, while the dots at the four points of the square represent the walls of the prison cell. This pattern is also called a “quincunx”. The garden of restitution is an orchard of Dzelkova Carpinifola, a species endemic to Georgia, planted in a quincunx pattern. In its permanent installation, the quincunx pattern will radiate outward with new plantings each year.