Human Flower Project
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Cactus Can Dance
Moses Pendleton crosses the boundaries among plant, bird, reptile and human lives with choreography.
from Opus Cactus
Moses Pendleton is more interested in spotted lizards than dying swans. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing his dance company perform, but from all I read, MOMIX, the troupe he founded in 1981, manages to bring the excitement and acrobatics of the circus to contemporary dance. One critic wrote that the company’s “inventiveness rises to the level of The Lion King and The Muppets.” Is that a compliment? I guess it depends on where you believe The Muppets set the bar, and how high or low your art-posture.
I’m intrigued by MOMIX’s Opus Cactus. Its backdrop is the Sonoran Desert, extending from south and west of Phoenix, Arizona, into Northern Mexico, and its dancers are the plants and animals of the region. I associate cacti with stability—those green pads still and spiny, immune to a Mexican summer. Even on a breezy May morning, it’s hard to envision a cactus dancing. I guess that’s why MOMIX’s project intrigues me.
Opus Cactus, which debuted some three years ago, has been performed all over the world. For the next several weeks, it’s being staged in Richmond, Virginia, and several Florida venues, and in Sydney and Perth, Australia. There’s a complete schedule on the MOMIX website.
Friends and readers who attend, please write and tell us what you think.
Note: Many thanks to Bill Hopkins of prairie point for alerting us to recent technical problems in posting “Comments” here. Everything should be working smoothly now. We really do welcome submissions and comments!
Friday, January 28, 2005
Stalking used to be called “ a crush” or “flattery,” and thought a nuisance. Today it’s taken very seriously, and flowers may be called into evidence.
When I first came upon a report of a stalker sending flowers, I brushed it aside as alarmist. How could sending flowers constitute harassment?
Now I’m convinced, after reading stories like this one from the Yorkshire Post:
The woman met a man at an office party, who asked her to dance. She declined his advances. The next day she received the first of hundreds of adoring letters, and then violent messages.
“‘When it first happened I just wanted him and it to go away and gave him every opportunity to stop without having to call in the police,’ she says. “In the back of my mind, I thought people might not see it as significant. If you tell people someone is sending you big bunches of flowers, there are some who will say, “Isn’t it nice to have an admirer?” or “It’s only a few letters, why are you getting so upset?“‘
“To outsiders, her stalker looked like an ordinary, middle-aged family man, but within a matter of weeks his behaviour had become increasingly threatening and alongside the flowers and chocolates came pornography and brochures for headstones and personal injury insurance.”
Stalking isn’t sentimental. Nor is it something vague. “Virtually any unwanted contact between a stalker and his/her victim which directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear” qualifies.
According to Safe Place Ministries, The stalker may try “to woo the victim into a relationship by sending flowers, candy, and love letters..,. However, when the victim spurns the unwelcome advances, the stalker often turns to intimidation.”
Still in doubt? Then consider this story from the Nashville Tennessean, and this one from Bowling Green, Ohio. In both, the stalkers’ gifts of flowers are acts of aggression. Both stories end with murder.
Another recent report, startling for its naivete, comes from Queens, New York. A homeless man allegedly harassed a women for four months, calling in more than 20 false fire alarms to her home “just to piss (her) off.”
The newspaper piece goes on to say, “Although Charles was charged with harassment and stalking, (the fire marshal investigator) said the woman was probably never in danger of being physically harmed. In fact, Charles had placed flowers on her doorstep on more than one occasion.” Wake up, people!!
Today in the U.S. alone, an estimated 200,000 people are being stalked. Here’s more information and advice for those who are being harassed. “When flowers are delivered, contact the flower shop immediately to ask who placed the order, how it was paid for and the description of the person making the purchase. Take pictures of the flowers and keep the card, if one is attached.”
The Human Flower Project intends to show the meaning and force of flowers in social life. A dozen roses can’t be dismissed. They intrude on us. The nature of that intrusion is ours to cultivate and understand.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Half Cowboy, Half Clerk
Riverfront Times (St. Louis, MO) profiles the bravely nerdy researchers of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Looking into the Missouri Botanical Garden website reminds me of the first and only time I went snorkeling, off Key Largo.
Wham! Here’s another universe.
Cadia flower [Fabaceae], Kenya
Photo: Missouri Botanical Garden
While you and I were changing the ink cartridge, the MBG, with 46 Ph.D. botanists on staff, has been documenting carnivorous flowers in northern Argentina, taking pictures of rhododendon in Northwestern China. In the time it takes to don your mask and snorkel, most of what they’ve done is yours to enjoy. Check out the research department’s photo essays. For those, like me, who are impressed with feats of archiving, the TROPICOS database dazzles the mind. Here are line drawings and photographs of plants from across the world, catalogued into their respective botanical families.
Conserving a species of journalism as endangered as the Alabama spiny pod, the Riverfront Times has devoted a 4000-word feature story to the botanical garden’s researchers. Kristen Hinman’s article extols the quirky, proud and dedicated botanists, the kind of people who roll their VW’s over rubbernecking at Kansas wildflowers or consent to a tribal rite of passage for the chance to see a rare plant in Madagascar.
All the Indiana Jones stuff gets bit tiresome, but, thankfully, Hinman’s story does look beyond the chest-thrusting of Ph.D.s. We learn that the Flora of North America project—to document all the plants on the continent—is starved for funds. “We’re all stoked by the idea that there might have been one kind of bacteria on Mars, and we’re willing to spend a billion dollars on that,” one of the botanists complains; meanwhile, the effort to find fast-disappearing plants right here has a hard time attracting money. Nearly 900 scientists have been working on a vast encyclopedia, but Hinman writes, “Over the past decade, the federal government has shown little commitment to the project, chipping in less than $1 million.”
Hinman also uncovers intellectual history. The “elders” among her botanist-heroes all complain that the field has become over specialized, an indoor occupation. They see “a growing number of young botanists becoming far more enamored with high-tech molecular studies using computers than with microscopes and human hands.”
Ron Liesner, botanist
Photo: Jennifer Silverberg, Riverfront Times
Over 60 species have been names for Ron Liesner, one of the MBG’s leading scientists. He complains, “There’s so much sorting to be done, so many families that need to be determined. When I was younger, I’d wonder what family I’d specialize in when I finished the general work. It never happened.” Liesner stresses, “It takes a long time to become a generalist…. And I don’t see a young person who’s doing that.”
The MBG herbarium holds 5.5 million plant specimens (many viewable on the website). The research division also runs training programs in South America, (information in English y en Espanol).
Check out Kristen Hinman’s tale of valiant plant collectors. Then pull on your flippers, find the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and dive in.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Sanity & Sanitation
Several British papers ran front page stories today about Rochdale Infirmary’s decision to ban flowers on certain wards.
“I was gobsmacked when first told about it,” said a nurse on the children’s ward at an English hospital after hearing that flowers had been banned from some parts of the building.
Hospital directors have left to the ward managers’ discretion whether to permit flowers. Manchester’s online paper is trying to “stir the stink” (as our Aunt Dorothy used to say), urging readers to comment on the measure. Have at it! and please drop a comment here too, if you choose.
A hospital spokesperson explained, ““With medical advances, many patients are now connected to medical devices and there is an obvious risk if you have water in proximity to that. There is also a background of concerns about the bacteria that could be carried in the water.”
The Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which manages the Rochdale facility and several others, presented new rules for hospital hygiene; they stop short of banning flowers altogether but do make several demands on patients and their visitors.
“The Patients’ Association today called on all NHS patients to provide their own soap and toiletries in hospital as part of the ten-point code on hygiene,” the Manchester paper reports. “The code says patients should arrange for relatives to wash their nightwear while they are in hospital.
“It also says that hospital visitors should go home and wash, and change their clothes, before coming to see a relative.” And while you’re at it, bring along a toilet brush, would you?