Walt Whitman dropped a sprig on the passing coffin of a murdered president and birthed a poem for dooryards and students. Not his most beautiful by far, but its love is real. As any love for a distant leader can only be so real, but the lilac is love. Staring into a screen full of its color, I am both spring and its destruction. Its bright lovely burst of life, its wilt and loss. The cool kiss of night, naked skin shivers but still you stay. And you stay and drink its sweetness and its rot, you drink your heart.
This sharply political act finds force in Taryn Simon’s photo series Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2015) and Kapwani Kiwanga’s ongoing series Flowers for Africa (begun in 2012), with their similar focus on floral arrangements made for banquets celebrating important political moments. Simon’s pictures tend to flatten the arrangements into manipulated environments. Kiwanga presents living bouquets, with the intention that they rot over the course of the exhibition (I watched one whither in A Change of Heart) so as to describe a complex physical poetic. For Kiwanga, the flowers that stood on the tables of important moments in politics represent the colonial import of European flower arrangement: where, for what, and by whom these flowers were cultivated, but also the hope and heartbreak involved in many of the agreements they witnessed. Some represented a marked turn toward liberation, while other accords withered along with the flowers. (Both of these projects echo, for me, Danh Vo’s display of the chandeliers from the Hotel Majestic in Paris hanging over the agreement that ended the US-Vietnam War.)
Both of the classes' hardship, superstitious beliefs and their attitudes towards women are displayed along with their lifestyle in the historical southern county of Wessex, allowing one to get different perspectives of...
Of course some artists in recent history focus on the base, mass appeal of flowers, like Warhol and his iconic screenprint Flowers (1964), or Jeff Koons with his giant, bloom-encrusted Puppy (1992) and solid shimmering metal of Tulips (1995-2004). But despite the blank-faced games of pop cipher employed by Warhol and the spirited industrial-scale exuberance of Koons, I can’t help finding a whisper of contempt in both, a pandering hucksterism, giving the people what they want. This obviousness and its exploitation is of course a part of the story of our modern interactions with flowers, but it obscures a more nuanced narrative.