Let the Flowers Bloom
Flowers mark occasions despite the fact that cut flowers seem to be cut mid flourish and somewhere around their mid riff. There is the flower for birthdays, for weddings, for a guilty apology basically all the clichés. They are used symbolically in religion, history and politics. This is not dealing with the symbolism of the flowers however, flowers depress me when I consider the thump as they fall onto a coffin in a grave and you feel it echo right beneath your ribcage and then the flowers used for mass graves, and last of all, the commemorative poppy. In Anselm Keifer’s work Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom (McEvilley,T; 2000) the mystical quality attributed to these buds and blooms is a surface symbolic gesture. Their perishability, infrequent bloomin’ success and burnt petal edges associate with one word death. But it is their bidirectional, striving upwards that offers us a glimpse into how frequent death and the simultaneous fleeting life is. This is not a metaphysical, philosophical contemplation upon death but the bidirectional upwards and onwards which is of interest here. We always look at bloom in parallel with our vision, according to our own upright posture. In Keifer’s work he depicts them a ground as if drawn from an aerial photograph but scattered. In some cases he not only paints the ground strewn but has petals poking through holes in the canvas. The literal take of physical material and using the layered effect of paint and debris makes the canvas ground, flat, base and earth. Yet, at the same time he has these creeping across the expanse of the canvas to a thin line, supposedly the horizon, very near the top. There is bidirectional here as simultaneously you are viewing the ground from above and straight on. This play on the bidirectional appears to offer us the contradiction of the flower itself.
In Rosalind Kraus’s essay on horizontality ( Kraus,R; 1997) she refers to Pollock’s gestures as physical dance acts covering the ground whilst the canvas is laid flat on the floor. What she doesn’t account for is the fact that the canvas arrives on the gallery wall, vertical and according to our own natural stance again. There is something in the physicality of a flat canvas that invites engagement of the body not just of sight yet it alters how we see and perceive through the camera eye. Once the canvas is on the ground it grows as an expanse, it appears to directly deal with space. Keifer’s flowers groan across the expanse across and upwards in a horizontal deadening thump on a coffin and yet cover almost completely so far wide, and so far above. It is a little like swallowing lots of water in the swimming pool as a stroke fails and you go under. It is the archetypal field of flowers, acknowledged in history books as we contemplate death, destruction through war, through politics. In this we see the tragedy of war and of political desire.
In my quest to model spaces in sites that are barren, edgeland rural/urban war grounds between the built environment and the rural I have been using principles of Kraus’ s horizontality to deal with the vision of the ground and expansive space, to capture some spatiality, something of the ground as subversive opposition to the built. It has meant that I have been working towards horizontally with maps, technical drawing and expansive projections taken from micro details of the built environment and larger edgeland type areas superimposed with blueprints of my proposed installations. A simultaneous act, a play on the battle between vertical built, and the laying or tilling the ground as it were. This movement appears to have something of the performative gesture and Kraus certainly established Pollock’s methods with the trajectory of a transversal dance.
This oppositional movement between the horizontal and the vertical gets slippery as I begin to see that horizontality of action, ground base or fertile ground offer a political landscape too. The creeping mass across, the expanse and the use of it to reveal ruins, devastation left behind failed politics and those caught in the margins, or the furrow sliced right through the middle of their lives, leaves ground ridges. Keifer’s flowers in bloom make for greater consideration when one acknowledges the historical figure he places over the flower ground with a smaller canvas panel in the form of Mao Zedong. This socialist leader made the announcement ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom’ to which Keifer responds with a thousand. Without diverting into the history too far it is clear that the relationship between ground and the iconic figure raised in a Nazi salute clarifies Keifer’s preoccupation with occupation. He strips the flowers of their petals and directly arrests attention on the relationship between individual and society. Visions, idealists and the territorial occupation of a societal psyche is something to be feared and nothing addresses that as much as a field laid waste. My work is not preoccupied with war and peace or iconic political figures but it is considering a small political battle ground over edgeland sites of rural/urban, the grounds laid waste by a lack of occupation and value by our culture, by our own mind-set and the waste as they continue to be co-opted into cheaper home builds. It is with regret that my activity with horizontal ground and the figure of occupation and resistance in edgleand spaces is now at my back door. The fields behind have been sold and the expanse is now open to infill development. Working with horizontality has suddenly become not just how we depict spaces and spatiality but as active ground from which resistance takes place. Kite flying art, and lightbox greenhouses may be structures playing with the spatial planes, but the activity and its participation has to be the horizontal action required to protect spaces and place.