Human Flower Project
Friday, March 31, 2006
Marc Quinn’s Suspended Garden
Is Marc Quinn’s “undertaking” necrophilia or conceptual art?
Detail from “Garden,” by Marc Quinn
How’s that tulip blooming next to a chrysanthemum? One’s a springtime flower, the other autumnal. Can a calla lily really flourish in the same bed as coxcomb? And how come we’ve begun to feel like a grouper?
Quinn (b. 1964, London) managed to collect 1000 flowers in full bloom from around the world and sank them all in “twenty-five tons of liquid silicone,” maintained at “a constant temperature of -80˚ Celsius.” His garden is frozen, but not frosty. Rather, the plants look as if they’re blooming in some intergalactic terrarium, the kind you might see while waiting for a root canal in a dentist’s office on Jupiter.
Quinn is one of a number of contemporaries—we think principally of Andres Serrano—who’ve gone for turning body parts and fluids into art. We learn that Quinn “is best known for Self (1991), a model of his head made from nine pints of his frozen blood… More recently, Quinn created a model of his four-day-old son’s head, made from his girlfriend’s liquidised placenta.”
Detail from “Garden,” by Marc Quinn
Of “Garden,” Quinn said, ““The flowers, when they freeze, become pure image. They become an image of perfect flower, because in reality their matter is dead and they are suspended in a state of transformation between pure image and pure matter.”
Of course, Rachel Ruysch and Fantin Latour made flowers into “pure image” with paint. In our view it’s they who were the “conceptual artists,” by leaving the “matter” of flowers to die in the studio while their floral art endures to this day. Quinn’s endeavor strikes us as closer to taxidermy. He’s described his own work as “eerie,” and we’d agree, much like dining at Mikeska’s restaurant down the road in Columbus, Texas. There, several dozen deer, bobcat, and antelope heads jut off the walls; digging into the fine German potato salad, there’s the distinct feeling that one is being watched.
We would very much like to have the chance to see Quinn’s “Garden” up close and in person. Right now, though, we welcome your opinions and comments.
Sue and Tim Pickering
live with a work by Marc Quinn
Photo: Richard Waite
You may also enjoy reading the reactions of Tim and Sue Pickering to Quinn’s landscapes. The Pickerings, as part of a cultural experiment (talk about eerie!), had a Quinn piece hang in their house on the outskirts of Birmingham, England.
“I’m conventional, I suppose.” Tim said. “Modern art - even stuff by Picasso - I don’t understand it really; I need to have it explained. A pile of bricks on the floor or a cow in formaldehyde leaves me cold.” How did Marc Quinn leave him?
“That’s not entirely a bad thing,” he remarked on first seeing Quinn’s “Italian Landscape”—a detailed photograph of another 3D frozen garden. “It makes you think, ‘There should be a mouse going through there, or a hedgehog or something.’”
Sorry, Tim. If you want hedgehogs, you’ll need to take up silicon art yourself or head out to Mikeska’s restaurant.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Thievery in the deserts of the U.S. and Mexico kill centuries-old plants for candy, profit, and landscape design.
Photo: T. Beth O’Reilly
Thanks to “The Cactus Wren,” our new friend from Nevada, for the following:
“In the deserts of the southwest U.S., cactus poaching or cactus wrangling, is a common crime. The motives behind it can vary.
“Some of the instigators just have a warped disrespect for things of the wild and get a kick out of yanking hundreds of years out of the ground. Larger specimens of cactus and yucca can be up to 500 years old. Some vandals have a more utilitarian purpose in mind. South of the border, barrel cactus is prized for the pulp that makes a special candy. Surely there would be a better way to “harvest the crop” than lopping tops entirely off and leaving the rest to rot.
“Some poachers are practiced thieves, who dig an entire specimen cactus like a Saguaro for a landscape accent, and make quite a living off of it. Other cactus thieves are obsessive collectors of plant material and look for that unique species, already rare in its natural habitat. Finally, there are the vandals who can honestly claim ignorance as an excuse.
“The lack of knowledge about desert environments and the life they support is widespread among the public. How to counter this desert crime? The National Park Service has inserted microchips in some cactus, so that they can be traced in the resale market. But the most important deterrent is the presence of law enforcement – cactus rangers, if you will. Most southwestern states have native plant laws in force. Education is the next best deterrent. Once people learn the impressive survival skills of these sentinels of the American deserts, they see the need to protect them.”
A report commissioned by the World Wildlife Federation studied cactus trade—legal and illegal—in the Chihuahuan Desert, a huge ecosystem that stretches from Central Mexico to Southern Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas. Nearly a quarter of all 1500 known varieties of cactus grow here.
A “booming desert landscaping trend, combined with poor regulation of legal plant harvesting, is putting pressure on many species,” TRAFFIC found. “If the demand for wild plants is not reduced rapidly, especially cacti, from the Chihuahuan Desert, we run the risk of destabilizing populations and losing species.”
(Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis)
Photo: Paul Montgomery
One especially vulnerable plant is the Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis ) of Big Bend National Park. Botanists working in the Chisos Mountains say only about 1000 of these plants remain. “Large showy flowers bloom on the cactus in March and remain through July. The tri-colored flowers have pinkish to magenta pointed-tip petals, white throats, and a dark crimson base. Greenish-red, club-shaped fruits with wooly areoles and bristly spines adorn the flowers. As the fruits ripen, they split open, exposing warty, oval seeds.”
Naturalist and photographer Paul Montgomery, who kindly provided this picture, writes, “Cactus thievery, particularly with cacti smaller than the Hedgehog, will eliminate many species within our lifetime. And when a cactus is removed from its habitat, placed in a flowerpot, given artificial fertilizer, and too much water, it no longer looks like its former self.”
While penalties for cactus poaching (and enforcement diligence) vary state to state, cactus sellers in Texas are now required to offer proof that each plant was harvested legally. There are fines of up to $1000 and potential jail time for violations.
Poached red barrel cactus (Ferocactus acanthodes), 100+ years old
Photo: Cactus Wren
Skipping over the Texas border to “safety”? Check out this story of a cactus heist in Toronto (heavy gloves required). Here’s a brief about a suspect caught in Switzerland with Texas succulents. And one more article, about 21 saguaro cactus rustlers, each facing charges of theft of federal property. Ay! Conviction in Arizona carries “a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.”
If people don’t care about endangered plants and cactus spines won’t deter them, maybe a $250,000 clonk on the wrist will get their attention.
Cut-Flower Trade • Ecology • Gardening & Landscape • Politics • Permalink
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Flowers & Eclipses
A solar eclipse brings hush, grey light and—for some flowers— a strange nap.
Partial solar eclipse, Amman, Jordan: March 29
Photo: Ali Jarekji, for Reuters
While others were straining to look through safety telescopes or special protective glasses, Ali Jarekji of Reuters sighted today’s eclipse on flower petals (via a pinhole, we suspect). The golden crescent of partial eclipse appeared on a flower in Amman, Jordan, and Jarekji had the brilliance to capture it with his camera.
The path of the eclipse began in Brazil, touching (among other lands) Ghana, Libya, the Greek Island of Kastellorizo, and Turkey, before “setting” in Mongolia at 11:48 GMT.
“It was more fabulous even than we expected,” said Jay Pasachoff, a U.S. astronomer, viewing his 42nd solar eclipse. “It’s one of those experiences that makes you feel like you’re part of the larger universe,” said Janet Luhman, a scientist with NASA.
A garden, under 60% solar eclipse, March 2003
As a new moon passes between the sun and Earth, the light becomes green-gray. The picture at right shows an eerie garden during an eclipse March 10, 2003.
In some cultures, this sudden nightfall during the day was cause for serious self-appraisal. Here’s a bit of Ethnoastronomy from Lithuania.
Until recently, “the belief was still alive that during solar eclipse it’s best to stay at home, pray and beg God to forgive our sins and protect from disaster. When at home close window shutters and cover the windows. Sometimes (people) lit candles and burn(ed) the Sunday palm flowers. The cattle would be kept inside the sheds in fear that during the solar eclipse they may contract a disease or get blind if they stay outside. It is said that during solar eclipse the cattle would make wild sounds and bend on their knees.”
Birds and flowers are likewise subdued. Daytime bloomers—like gazania, poppies, tulips and portulaca—all close as the moon intervenes. Perhaps they “think” it’s night or —like early Lithuanians—they, too, feel chastened.
Wild Flower Eclipse
Photo: by John Foster
This site notes: “There may well be sudden bursts of wind around totality - resulting from the sudden change in temperature. Watch for unusual patterns and shadows on the ground and on buildings. Watch the behaviour of people around you!”
Good advice, eclipse or no.
(Many thanks to John Foster of Portland, OR, for permitting us to post his fine photo of what happens when a wildflower passes between the sun and Earth.)
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
A scientist in Amsterdam is discovering the secrets of floral fragrance thanks to a humble bedding plant.
Photo: Il Fioraio
Sophisticates may turn up their noses at petunias, the “teddy bear” of garden plants. But scientists of scent love them.
“Petunias naturally produce a large number of mutant forms, and it’s this genetic variability as well as their large and fragrant flowers which makes them ideal subjects for research into the genetic underpinnings of blossom and scent production.”
Through petunia research, Julian Verdonk of University of Amsterdam claims to have discovered the “masterswitch” of fragrance. He and his team managed to “trap” the volatile compounds of petunias (volatility gets the smell from the flower to your nose and brain) with a needle and glass funnel. The team identified twelve different “benzoid” molecules in petunias and began tracking their movement ‘round the clock.
Extracting petunia scent
Photo: Radio Netherlands
Verdonk discerned a rhythm in petunia fragrance, “a 24 hour cycle with the maximum in the night.” Since petunias are pollinated by nocturnal moths, it makes sense they’d be most highly scented after sundown.
Also, Verdonk thinks he has found the specific gene that signals the plant to unleash fragrance (by suppressing that gene, he managed to snuff out the petunia’s odor).
“Using this knowledge we have now, we could really start to manipulate not only the scent of commercial flowers, but also taste and colour” of related fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, which we learn, are petunia cousins.
The Europeans, historically, have been averse to transgenic plants, where botanical DNA gets dweedled with animal genes, pesticides or herbicides. Verdonk says that his petunia experiments should make improvements in plant fragrance possible without transgenics. “Instead classic breeding techniques could simply be speeded up, using ODO 1—the “masterswitch gene”—as a ‘marker’ for the requisite characteristics.”
These lab flowers may help restore spice to florists’ roses and tune some jazz into your store-bought tomato.
So, would y’all please stop treating the petunia as second-class citizen?
(For Dr. Verdonk’s full research findings, here’s the citation: Verdonk JC, Haring MA, Van Tunen AJ, Schuurink RC (2005) ODORANT1 Regulates Fragrance Biosynthesis in Petunia Flowers. Plant Cell. 17(5): 1612-24)