The Slight arrangements exhibition at Te Papa highlights the biophilic connection human beings have to nature. An array of different photographers, each using different photographic techniques, have created a series of beautiful still life images. Each image somehow alluding to the historical recording of botanical flowers. Yet the framework of the show is designed to provide the viewer’s eye with the ‘last’ of the colourful flowers before the ‘end of summer.’ Many of these plants however, were photographed in bloom at different times of year, not simply summer. Peter Peryer’s Carmelia (2010) for example, features a carmelia which blooms in late winter/early spring. Peryer captures the carmelia in a painterly fashion, with warm light encircling the pink camellia, as though a reference to the French baroque style of painting. The carmelia’s leaves appear like regal wings stretching out into the pictorial plane.
Yvonne Todd’s Datura (2000) depicts wild daturas pushing up toward the sky. They are chased by vines, which nibble at the plants outer edge. The white droopy flowers slide through these long leaves and push up into the orb-like sun, which pierces through the ash coloured sky and the right of the plant. Dotted flickers of this light hover on an angle almost at the foreground, while long green grass marks the space below the datura plant. Daturas are plants often associated with witches’ weeds. They contain toxic hallucinogens, yet are said to be an essential ingredient in love potions and witch’s brew. Todd’s Datura registers an almost otherworldly quality, as the eye follows the tangling of the Datura plants as though hypnotised. The foreboding sky surrounding the plants looks intent upon demonstrating its ability to destabilize the very world Todd has captured. The tops of the datura plants prevail in evading the tangling vines which threaten to suffocate them. The plant has outgrown this attempt to appropriate the nutrients it requires from the sun. Datura for me captures the Darwinian concept of ‘survival of the fittest’, yet it both accentuates and accepts mortality as a given part of existence, most noticeably for the ephemeral nature of plants.
Using a dye transfer print, Paul Caponigro’s Red flowers in Kyoto (1976) dares the viewer to walk gently towards the darkened edge of the photograph. Red flowers in Kyoto depicts a red cherry blossom tree. Due to the finite nature of cherry blossoms or sakura, as they bloom, they are also constantly shedding before winter arrives. Cherry blossoms provide the perfect metaphor for the Japanese aesthetic concept of mono no aware. Mono no aware means simply to appreciate the ephemeral beauty of nature and of our lives. In Caponigro’s Red flowers in Kyoto a beautiful red blossom’s flowers scatter across the foreground, while an ethereal tree trunk alludes to a flicker of darkness in the distance.
Martin Bruehell’s carbo printed Flower (late 1930s) produces an explosion of colour in the form of a coral-like, pink tropical flower. The flowers burst across the photograph, yet they are protected by a shield of monstera-like leaves. These leaves darkly glisten around their exposed flowers.
Robert Mapplethorpe captures the transient nature of tulips in Tulips NYC (1987). Tulips are the only cut flowers that grow in length, as well as change in shape, as the petals open. In his hallmark monochromatic style, Mapplethorpe captures the elegant beauty of a singular bunch of flowers. Using blocks of black, grey and white, Mapplethorpe moulds this arrangement in an organised, yet coincidental use of shadowplay. Throughout the later part of his life Mapplethorpe took many photographs of flowers, including photographs of more tulips, callas lilies and orchids. This suggests the artist’s own contemplation of mortality, through his capturing of the life span of flowers. Tulips are noted in Scandinavia as representing the briefness of life and in Turkey tulips are said to represent paradise on Earth. Here, they have an almost celestial quality. Throughout time human beings have been drawn to flowers: by growing, picking, arranging or documenting. We are innately conditioned to interact with nature, and benefit from it when we do. In floristry, tulips are flowers which are notoriously difficult to arrange. This is due to their shape and changeable nature. Yet Mapplethorpe captures them in a manner devoid of manipulation, emphasizing the plants’ slight arrangement.
Tomizawa, Sean. “Japanese society NY.” Be aware of ‘mono no aware’. N.p., 05 04 2012. Web. 10 Apr 2014. <http://japansocietyny.blogspot.co.nz/2012/04/be-aware-of-mono-no-aware.html>.