Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Do Flowers Say ‘Help Yourself’?

A team of English psychologists finds flowers make poor police.

imageWant to keep people in line? Don’t expect much help from flowers.

Melissa Bateson, a scholar at the University of Newcastle, led an intriguing experiment by diddling with a custom in the psychology department. As in many offices, there’s a box for on-your-honor donations at the tea, coffee, and milk station, with a notice of suggested prices. At the communal beverage stand, the scientists posted changing images close to the coin catcher, alternating photos of human eyes with pictures of daisies, lilies, and roses.

“People put nearly three times as much money into an ‘honesty box’ when they were being watched by a pair of eyes on a poster, compared with a poster that featured an image of flowers.” With a picture of blossoms nearby, beverage drinkers paid lots less than on days when they were pouring out a glass of milk or cup of coffee with a sense of somebody looking on. The findings were published last year in Biology Letters.

Dr. Bateson concludes: “Our brains are programmed to respond to eyes and faces whether we are consciously aware of it or not.” Even she was surprised at the power of a 2-dimensional gaze to curb petty theft (or discourage freebies, depending on how you see it). It seems that we’re all working fairly consistently, consciously and subconsciously, to protect our reputations—also known as CYA—and that a human gaze, even in an inanimate one, serves as a cue that our public image may on the line.

imageMoney paid/milk consumed:

low on flower weeks, high on eyes weeks

Image:  M. Bateson et al.

We were curious that Dr. Bateson chose flowers as the experiment’s control. Why not just have eyes one week and nothing the next? “I wanted something eyecatching,” she wrote, “and I also liked the idea that flowers have evolved as a signal to another species (insects rather than humans admittedly) to attract their attention.”

But we think it’s possible that the image of flowers, rather than being neutral, might actually have reduced the amount of donations in the kitty. Might not flowers suggest, both consciously and subliminally, “be our guest”? A picture of roses or daisies, we believe, might actually have altered the visual message at the coffee station, making the posted price a “free will donation” rather than a fixed charge. Flowers, in other words, may not put people on their honor but at their ease.

“I hadn’t considered the possibility that flowers may actually make people less likely to pay! ” Dr. Bateson writes. We hope that she or others will repeat this fascinating experiment, incorporating this possibility. The team might rotate photos of eyes, flowers, nothing, and some other arresting image, and thus examine our subconscious associations not only with the human gaze but with the “floral gaze,” too.

Posted by Julie on 01/31 at 11:32 AM
Culture & SocietyScienceSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chrysanthemum Dog—Rough, Rough

A florist designs silent terriers, but which breed are they?


Barkless terrier with chrysanthemum coat

Photo: Courtesy of Tom Bishop

Will the real chrysanthemum dog please lie down and roll over?

Thanks to our dear father-in-law, Tom Bishop of Hilton Head, SC, we came upon these pictures of a florist’s canines: several chrysanthemum arrangements suitable for chasing small children and alarming the UPS deliveryperson.

imageTibetan terrier: sans flowers and sans home

Photo: Got Pets Rescue

Now we discover that “Chrysanthemum Dog” is actually the nickname for the Shih Tzu AND the Tibetan terrier. Both breeds come from flower loving parts of the world (Japan and Tibet), and both have eyes and noses buried in curls that really do resemble the chrysanthemums’ hundreds of curved petals.

The Tibetan terrier was new to us. “Well known throughout India, the breed is regularly exhibited in this country and so too in America where it was first recognised in 1935 by the American Kennel Club. Adult Tibetan Terriers stand around 14 to 15 inches tall,” slightly larger than these floral arrangements, “and weigh between 14 and 30 lbs. Their coat is long and fine, without being silky or curly. Colours can vary from white to cream, grey, golden, parti-colour and black.”

imageA white mum pup

Photo: Courtesy of Tom Bishop

Couldn’t Bichon Frise and toy poodles qualify as Chrysanthemum dogs? Their curly-faces are just as floral, but since the French associate mums with funerals, they wouldn’t be too likely to portray their beloved pets (welcome in most restaurants) with such a solemn blossom.

Meantime, we’ve been trying to track down the talented maker of these floral pups, thus far to no avail. Will the real chrysanthemum dog designer please yank our chain?

Posted by Julie on 01/30 at 01:12 PM
Culture & SocietyFloristsPermalink

Monday, January 29, 2007

Gregg’s Roses—Look Again

A California designer brings out the symmetrical mysteries in his garden with crystals and a long, long lens.


New outlook on pink roses via Gregg Payne’s teleidescope

Photo: Commission Impossible

Gregg Payne is the first “collaborative aerosol artist” we’ve known. But it was his “spray roses” that grabbed us, the startling image we spotted on Commission Impossible. (Thank you, Lon!)

A multitalented fellow in Chico, California, Gregg has commercial logos, metal sculptures, and murals to his credit, as well as the largest windchimes in the state of California. (There must at least 100 times as many windchimes in California as guitar pickers in Nashville).  “I’ve made a lot of oversize contraptions,” he writes, “but this one (the teleidescope) is my favorite.” His magic apparatus, made of copper, brass, and stainless steel, has “a six-inch Austrian crystal sphere” as its main lens.

Two-mirror scopes become fountains of radial symmetry. Do snowflakes have consciousness? If so, perhaps this is how the world looks to them.

imageJennifer looks through the teleidescope

(near the biggest windchimes in CA, at right)

Photo: Gregg Payne

“First, surface mirrors run the length of the tube and are cut into curves at the ends to wrap around the curve of the lens,” he explains. Will that also work on aphids?  “It has an infinite depth of field from an inch to a mile and never needs focusing.” Unfortunately, what we can’t show you is the teleidescope’s real visual power. It’s big enough to look through with both eyes at once, which, Gregg says, “lets our binocular depth perception see everything in 3-D. Cameras are cool but there’s no comparison to the motion, depth and presence of seeing.”

Devoted to public art, Gregg has been kindly toting his teleidescope around Chico and environs—most recently to Moxie’s Cafe and the Jesus Center—so that others can look for themselves. Gregg thanks Rory Rottschalk, “local philanthropist and promoter of all things cool,” who paid for construction of the teleidescope. What a community effort! and with Gregg’s “contraption” focused on these roses in the garden, what a Human Flower Project, too.




Posted by Julie on 01/29 at 05:07 PM
Art & MediaSciencePermalink

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower

Zhang Yimou’s movie of “Extraordinary People” surrounds a sea of venom with acres of flowers.


The Empress conspires with Prince Jai

on the eve of the Chrysanthemum festival

Photo: Bai Xiaoyan

When a loyal son chooses to defy his father—a treacherous medieval emperor with hair down to there— what happens?

Here’s what: A zillion warriors dressed in gold mail and helmets meet a kazillion soldiers in silverplate, and they clash before the palace, fighting it out on a sward of yellow chrysanthemums the size of Tennessee.

Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower, the most popular film in Chinese history,  took $42 million to make. Cheap, we say, considering the flower budget alone. There is a gorgeous painting of peonies in the apartment of Number One Son, Prince Wan. The hallways are paneled with faux-ivory screens “carved” into floral motifs. Ladies in waiting sprinkle petals into the prince’s bathwater. Floral carpets roll down a flight of two hundred stairs. The Empress, played with a pout of grandeur by Gong Li, wears golden flowers in her upswept hair and painted flowers on her long nervous fingernails. Her chambers are filled with vases of gerberas and big pots of chrysanthemums—purple, white and yellow. And throughout the film, she embroiders golden chrysanthemums stretched over a hoop of silk, in preparation for the Chong Yang Festival, the climax of the story.

Many Western critics, accustomed to such fare as “Sex, Lies & Videotape,”  mock the opulence of Zhang Yimou’s film. (Some Chinese directors have called the film garish, too). How misguided and cranky. The big screen was built for scale and ornamentation like this. The color!  Hundreds of attendants dressed in royal blue carry pots of yellow mums down from the terrace. Against a background of red and gold, the palace pillars are wrapped in velvety, psychedelic pink, green, and orange. This is no Podcast but maximalist film making. Can you handle it?


The Empress (Gong Li) ascends to the Chrysanthemum Terrace

in Curse of the Golden Flower

Image: via parakiss

Chrysanthemum is the “golden flower” of the saga. Blooming in autumn as others fade, it symbolizes robustness and nobility. In Chinese popular tradition, its virtues are celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, the holiday known as Chong Yang.

“In the tradition of yin and yang, these nines are doubly yang, which connotes positive energy and masculinity. Chong Yang is celebrated by feasting with the family, honoring ancestors and the elderly, and often by hiking to a mountaintop or ascending to a high place—such as the Chrysanthemum Terrace in Curse of the Golden Flower—to appreciate nature and to escape from evil spirits.”

This piece from People’s Daily helps illuminate the complex meaning of chrysanthemum in China and the working of symbol itself. Our Western expectation had been that in the royal family conflict, one side would emerge as the true “chrysanthemum ” and carry the day. But the movie is more interesting than that. It’s a battle over power (“positive energy and masculinity”) embodied in the autumn flower. And as such,  “escape from evil spirits” is hard to come by.

Though the film’s characters are fictional, the story takes place in the last years of the Tang dynasty. Not coincidentally, “Another famous figure identified with the chrysanthemum is Huang Chao who lived in the 9th century. Huang was the leader of a peasant revolt towards the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). He led an army of thousands and occupied Luoyang after several years of fighting.

“He wrote two poems about the chrysanthemum, one of which contains the lines: ‘If I could be the king of the flowers, I would allow the chrysanthemum to bloom with the peach blossom; The fragrance (of the chrysanthemum) would fill Chang’an City, and the city would be clothed in golden armour.’”

imageThe Empress embroiders chrysanthemums by the thousands, but why?

Image: Yahoo Movies/Gong Li

This, we learn, was a chaotic time in Chinese history, as the Tang empire splintered and Chinese warlords vied for control. According to this fine review, “The Emperor can be seen as one of the military men who seizes power…The Emperor’s rigid insistence on following ritual and ceremony can be seen as a mark of his hypocrisy; he aspires to the glory days of the Tang Dynasty, but he is really a latter-day usurper.”

We hope not to have given too much away, The plot’s thick, the violence is knifey, the costumes are nominated for an Academy Award, and the flowers are plush. We recommend a movie break from English schools and Brad Pitt with three days’ beard. As the Empress says to Prince Jai on the eve of the great festival: “The chrysanthemums are ready. They deserve to bloom once.”

Posted by Julie on 01/28 at 12:27 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPoliticsPermalink
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