“Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know - even man himself - would never have existed.” “The Immense Journey” by Loren Eiseley, a very important book by a very distinguished scientist.
Feminizing anything trivializes it. Botanists know that without flowers and the seeds and fruits that they produce, warm-blooded creatures would have never evolved. Dinosaurs were slow and stupid because the leaves they had to eat had few calories. The much greater nutrition offered by flowering plants made the appearance of smart and fast creatures possible. In their attempts to gain the attention of the public, botanists start out describing the importance of their science but inevitably end on a wistful note, wondering why our culture doesn’t care.
Flowers have been essential in other cultures and other times and places: Even the neanderthals used them at funerals. The Romans imported cut flowers from Egypt. Their Floralia was as big a festival as any other in the year. While classicists (white, male) dismiss both the goddess and the holiday, if they dane to mention it, with prudish remarks about lasciviousness, Ovid was there and thought differently. In his calendar of the festival year, “Fasti,” he explains each festival in a conversation with the honoree. He talks to Flora longer than any other deity, which is a fair indication of her importance. Medieval houses didn’t have much in the way for furniture, but they had plants and flowers as they were important for improving the air. American pioneer women are pictured virtuously planting medicinal herbs for home-made cures, but they planted many flowers as well. By Victorian times, there was no limit to how much or big flowers and plants were in good houses. Their rooms were full of palm trees and whole rosebushes raised up on columns.
The world wars were the start of the loss of status of flowers in our culture with the disruption of the garden industry, but there were two other factors: The invention of aerosol air freshers in 1948 and “Say It With Flowers.
Aerosol air fresheners allowed people to substitute a can full of chemicals for living things that needed tending. They were new and modern. Glade and its competitors never smelled like real flowers but you could even plug some of them in and have them spray the fake scents continuously. That they are noxious, which even a Febreeze commercial admits, has only recently become of any concern. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYjyz7Q8_zI
And then came “Say It With Flowers,” a completely gendered conversation: we know who is talking and we know who is listening with the understanding they will be forgiving anything for a dozen roses. Men decide who to buy for, what occasion merits a purchase and who the recipient will be and women are the passive recipients. The rest of the world has not reduced a whole biota to a tool for displaying gender inequality. Most places instead recognize it as the source of their sustenance.
The way flowers reproduce also contradicts sexual expectations. The center piece of a lily with the very prominent red tip is called a pistil, but associating it with a phallus is exactly wrong, it’s actually the female organ. Which makes lilies the most aggressively female living things. The mythical vagina dentata in Eric Neumann’s “The Great Mother” shows up in reality in the little pansy, where the pistil hides in the throat whose mouth is ringed with “teeth” that are the sepals, the male parts. A hibiscus puts everything out in front with the stamens riding on the pistil. In the poppy, the pistil is short and wide, while in zinnias and sunflowers there are hundreds of pistils under hundreds of sepals. Mammals are all pretty much alike, but flowers are endlessly inventive.
My sculptures take their subject seriously. Scale has often been used to make a subject important, or at least hard to miss. The great Georgia O’Keefe wrote that she knew if she painted blossoms actual size no one would pay attention to them and she purposely made them large so people would notice. What the viewer thought of the image was his or her business, but O’Keefe wanted attention to be paid. Based on both live models and photographs of them, the sculptures strive to be faithful portraits. The choice of both materials and method is also gender conscious: fabric and beads aren’t generally used on this scale and sewing is often labeled a feminine handicraft for small things. The sculptures use feminine handicraft on a man-sized scale.