Human Flower Project
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Hurricane Katrina engulfed coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including the beloved Crescent City of New Orleans.
Water spilled over a levee along the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal in New Orleans, Louisiana, yesterday.
Photo: Vincent Laforet, for AFP
Two levees have broken, flooding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina tore across the Gulf Coast. Hundreds of thousands of people are stranded across the region and many have died.
We send along the image of a human flower, a Mardi Gras Indian in celebration of the city and its people. You’ll find also on this site some Mardi Gras Indian chants and music, which seem in order today. Jockomo-Fee-Nah-Ney.
Better Days: A Mardi Gras Indian struts through New Orleans
Photo: Mark Lacy
There are lots of organizations involved in relief. Here is one that’s feeding people: America’s Second Harvest.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Get Back—Flowers of India
Tabish Qureshi and friends have set out to identify all the flora of the Indian subcontinent, and you can help.
Polianthes tuberosa in Manipur, India
Also known as Mexican tuberose, Rajanigandha (Hindi, Manipuri, Bangla), and Gulshabbo (Urdu)
Photo: Tabish Qureshi
In today’s e-mail, a gift from the other side of the Earth: Flowers of India.
Tabish Qureshi writes, “The site, meant for flower lovers, is aimed at having the local names, pictures and descriptions of all the flowers found in India” —a human flower project of the first order.
Tabish has worked with psychologist and flower enthusiast Thingnam Girija, a couple of fellow physicists and a botanist to collect photographs from across the country, as well as detailed botanical, historical and practical information about each plant. The site is organized for several kinds of searching (including by color), and generously recommends books and even opensource software to start your own website.
One especially inviting feature for you eager botanists is a rotating photo gallery of flowers yet to be identified. Like this beauty:
With clear-eyes, Tabish has articulated the impulse behind his effort, and our own:
“There was a time, when a lot of people knew about a lot of flowers. But for the city bred individual, flowers are only like pretty pictures. The pace of city life tends to alienate the individual from mother nature, which brought him into existence in the first place…. This is meant to be a place you can look at if you saw a flower and wanted to know more about it. Knowing more about flowers, and then going out and having a look at them, will be more like communing with nature.”
“Knowing” flowers—and related activities, like photographing them, protecting them, dedicating weblogs to them— does seem to be our lot, if not communion itself, then “more like communing with nature.” We’re not at all sure that people in earlier times and more rural places “knew” more about flowers, but they certainly lived among them in ways we don’t and perhaps can’t ever again. That sense of loss, what some would call Romanticism, is propelling our human flower projects forward (or is it backward?).
Art & Media • Culture & Society • Ecology • Secular Customs • Permalink
Sunday, August 28, 2005
A Dutch photographer’s online portfolio shows cultural flux in contemporary Russia and Palestine. Flowers, real and fake, mark the “fault-lines” between old and new.
Bee is a Dutch-born photographer who has spent much of the past 15 years making art in Russia and the Middle East. His pictures of everyday objects first brought to mind for me the photographs of Walker Evans—Evans’s images of Coca-Cola signs and the decorations on a sharecropper’s mantelpiece.
But take a look. Most of Bee Flowers’s photographs are color-saturated. They focus on the every objects of life—toothbrushes, chairs—and manage to show through those humble objects a world of upset, feeling, and uncertainty. Whereas Evans strikes me as witty and ironic, Bee Flowers conveys another mood, both more playful and more compassionate.
In his series Backyards of Babylon, residents of the West Bank both cling to tradition and grasp for novelties. Bee writes, “Fake flowers play such a prominent role in people’s lives there (due to the absence of wild flowers, no doubt).” In Dacha, interior details of an elderly woman’s home communicate both loneliness and self-satisfaction—maybe even pride.
For me, it’s especially fascinating how flowers seem to be cushioning the shocks—as the old world scrapes against the new, self-sufficiency caves in to consumerism, east and west meet but not along a straight seam. Flowers are a way of making peace (or calling a truce, anyway) between incommensurables.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
The tongue orchid, now blooming at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, is a star of side-show botany.
New York’s Erie County Fair, 1999
Photo: Carnival Oddities
In a league with Snake Lady and the world’s tiniest horse, there is Bulbophyllum fletcherianum, the tongue orchid. Newspapers around the world are reporting today that Melbourne’s specimen is blooming, for only the second time in thirty years.
Bulbophyllum fletcherianum, tongue orchid
This rare plant, an epiphyte native to New Guinea, is hard to sustain in captivity. It tends to grow on the face of rock cliffs. Its blooms are hairy and the color of dried blood. Its leaves droop down a meter or more, like hot tongues. Smell? According to the Tropical House curator in Melbourne, “If you mixed, say, two or three-day old rotting flesh with manure you would get pretty close.” We’d say that’s quite close enough.
We put the tongue orchid in the same tent as Titan Arum—the sideshow of the horticultural midway. Others might say our taste in flowers is mundane. Truly. We’ll take daisies, and leave tongue orchid, with its carrion scent, to the flies, gawkers and experts.