The Evil of Banality:
How a Divorce Transformed Utopia into Dystopia

Sun Farm aerial view looking north-east

July 9 is the sad anniversary of one of the numerous appearances in the New York Civil Supreme Court for my divorce case, aka 306769/15. It is an anniversary that reminds me of how corruption, privilege and injustice prevail and how a broken court system has taken control of an important art and educational project to which I have devoted almost two decades: Sun Farm.

On July 8 2019, I unexpectedly learned that a court appearance was scheduled for the following day. The notification was not through the official channels, but from an email by the WebCivil Supreme Court I subscribed for my case. My presence was requested by a divorce post-judgement OSC (Order to Show Cause) filed by my ex-husband’s attorney. On July 9, in a courtroom of 71 Thomas Street, I was intimidated by a former judge no longer in office after a petition of over 1300 signatures to remove her from the bench. The court appearance arrived as a surprise: my divorce ended with the settlement agreement in January 2018, entered by the County Clerk in June 2018; the settlement agreement was already greatly biased in favor of my ex-husband, the “monied” spouse during the thirty-year marriage who hid several assets which should have considered part of the matrimonial property. I signed the settlement agreement because I wanted to move on with my life after the brutal litigation which had already serious consequences on my physical health. At the July 9 2019 court hearing I appeared as pro-se. After the disastrous performance of the second attorney who represented me during the divorce proceedings, I believe it was ludicrous to pay the retainer she requested after the divorce. I asked for adjournment to seek legal counseling and adjournment was denied. I reacted with a severe panic attack (chest pressure and trouble breathing) at the point that the court guard offered to seek medical assistance, which was denied by the judge.

One year later, I am still dealing with the consequences of that day. The former judge assigned the receivership of a 68-acre property I co-own, to other co-owner, my ex-husband. Assigning receivership to a party involved in a litigation is almost unprecedented; in my case this receivership had extremely damaging consequences. The property is not only a weekend home, as stated in the court order, but also the site of Sun Farm, a project I have developed since 2001. Sun Farm reflects the vision of a settlement in harmony with nature, where sky meets earth; the sun regulated biorhythms lead human activities promoting peacefulness, mindfulness and compassion.

Sun rising during the 2006 fall equinox, framed by Sunrise Trellis at Sun Farm
Sun rising during the 2006 fall equinox, framed by Sunrise Trellis at Sun Farm

In Sun Farm art meets sustainable living in an experiential garden, site-specific to the topography of property can also be defined as an “art in nature” and “bio-art” project, where art is a vehicle to interpret celestial events in a place designed to make us “aware of where we are in space and time.” Drawn from cosmology, observational astronomy and philosophy, Sun Farm consists of excavated earthworks, large scale environments and above ground constructions: the sun’s daily path is represented, literally and metaphorically, by two spirals connected by a ¾ mile long axis. Several narratives are involved: ideation concepts are expressed in writings and diagrams, representations and digital models, images, and computer generated animations. Astronomical diagrams, charts, time lapse photographs and videos are not only documentation and presentation tools but also enhance the perception of the artworks.

Sun Farm also is the site specific to a series of performances titled Finding the Axis Mundi, based on the awareness of “mindful landscapes” where the performers’ body embodies the connection between earth and sky, with alignment to the sun positions ever changing throughout the day and the year cycles. Sun Farm is not a typical example of land art, although it includes earthworks; each intervention relates to the topography and other natural characteristics of the site, and is designed as an experiential landscape where the mind-body connection extends to the local and remote landscape.

Ecotherapy at Sun Farm: seeking well-being in mind-body immersion where the Sky meets the Earth. A video from 2007 from the interview « Art + Place = (Space + Time) of Existence »

Sun Farm presents a great potential as site for ecotherapy (nature-based therapy) and palliative care, as well as educational programs with foundations in observational astronomy. The works realized so far, are only a small component of what it was envisioned in the vision and masterplan. Ultimately Sun Farm is a utopian place where art and nature promote well-being.

But this important project is endangered. The utopian vision behind Sun Farm, instead of turning into reality has been trapped into the dystopian world of greed and corruption. My ex-husband assigned the property site of Sun Farm to a real estate agent in Hudson (NY) and signed a sale contract. The purchase price is significantly lower than market value, even without consideration of the presence of such remarkable site specific works.

Since last April I contacted the real estate agent and over 100 attorneys stating the importance of saving the project not only as artwork but for the educational and therapeutic potential for local and remote communities. I mentioned the egregious situation of how the extremely unusual “receivership” was obtained by my ex-husband. The real estate agent replied with a “cease and desist” notice when I told him that he was not authorized to put on the market a project which was not even included in the “receivership.” My daughter Zoe sent a letter to the buyer, who in bad faith used the information she provided for his greedy pursuits. Astonishingly, the buyer put less than 1% of downpayment and my ex-husband’s real estate attorney seems to protect the buyer’s interest instead of his clients. The story gets twisted and complicated, documented by an extensive correspondence and a multitude of phone calls. The sale appears to be rigged.

As art practice and copying response I started an autoethnography, titled “The Evil of Banality” documenting every aspect of dealing with the brutal divorce. My daughter Zoe mentioned in this essay on her experience of the divorce that the “the personal is political” and the “private is public.” These are slogans from the Italian feminist movement which can be applied to any situation of abuse of power: only a collective response can stop a threat of private corrupted interests over the public benefit. Saving Sun Farm is not only about saving an art in nature project but also about regaining agency about art as one of the most important human expression, which should not be destroyed by hatred, greed and corruption.

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daniela bertol

I am a research artist, scholar, author, inventor, designer and…survivor of bullying and domestic abuse. Creativity and yoga are a survival means to challenges.