Human Flower Project
Friday, May 04, 2007
Thistle Stop: Scottish Nationalists On the Rise
In yesterday’s vote, the Scottish National Party advanced and may force a vote on independence by 2010.
Scotland’s pro-independence movement is gaining,
spurred on by a traditional flower
Photo: Donald Macleod
Max Weber put his finger on it (Ouch!) when he described government as “the monopoly on violence.” Accordingly, any honest and ambitious political party looking for a floral emblem will choose a mean-ass plant.
No group has better “field position,” in this respect, than the Scottish National Party. The thistle, intractable, eight feet tall, and spiny enough to blow the cover (legend has it) of an invading Viking army, has been Scotland’s symbol for at least 600 years. As the loudest voice for Scotland’s independence, the SNP has “grasped the thistle” and vowed that, if it gains control of the Scotland’s Parliament, leadership will call for a vote on splitting free of the U.K. in the next three years. After three centuries of union, this prospect would solidify “dreams of an independent country matching the economic successes of neighbouring and similarly populated Ireland and Norway, rather than relying on heavy subsidies from London.”
Parliamentary elections were held yesterday, prognosticators saying Tony Blair’s Labour Party would be flushed from power. (Blair was born, by the way, in Edinburgh.) But the latest reports suggest the race in Scotland is much closer than expected. At the last count we picked up from the BBC, the SNP and Labour were tied, at 40 seats apiece in Scotland’s Parliament. Yesterday’s voting was described as “chaotic,” with some mix-up affecting 100,000 “spoilt ballot papers” (we sympathize).
Alex Salmond, head of the Scottish National Party,
made a point with voters 5/3/07
Photo: David Moir, for Reuters
SNP leader Alex Salmond was out and about yesterday, electioneering by handing out thistles at the polls. We presume that Scotland’s florists have devised a way to make such boutonnieres bloodless, otherwise Salmond might have been doing his cause more harm than good.
There is, actually, some dispute over which thistle qualifies as Scotland’s true emblem. Our bit of research indicates that Onopordum acanthium is generally agreed upon, but because this plant isn’t native to Scotland, it seems a poor choice, despite is menacing appearance. Check here for more on the Scottish thistles, also known as Cluaran, Diogan, Foghnan, Giogan, Thrissel, and Tistle.
For some spiny human interchanges, read the comments on this recent editorial.
“Why oh why has the penny taken so long to drop? ” one writer asks.
“Labour, Tory and Liberal Democratic rule has done nothing for Scotland except to reinforce the status quo and to provide a nice profitable, comfortable way of life for a hell of a lot of political layabouts,” claims another. Poke those fat cats with a thistle!
Alastair says, “Wanting to ‘save’ the Union is, from a Scottish perspective, like some sucker for punishment wanting to ‘save’ a cancerous tumour. Good riddance! The sooner we’re shot of it the better. Good luck SNP, bye-bye “United” (sic) Kingdom!”
We’ll hope to update in the coming hours, letting you know how high the thistle stands. Note on 5/4: The Scottish National Party gained 22 seats—a total of 47—and the Labour Party lost 4, down to 46.
Under the current order, “Scotland’s parliament passes laws on education, health and justice and can alter income tax in Scotland by three pence in every pound, but London retains primacy on all matters relating to Britain as a whole, including defence, energy and foreign relations.” In other words, London holds the “monopoly on violence”—for now.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
India Flint—Eucalyptus Dancing
Thanks to Australian textile artist India Flint for this account of her latest work: costuming the dancers in a new ballet using silks and home grown wools, scented and colored with local plants. Bravo, India!
“Ash” from Frances Rings’s ballet ‘debris’
Perth International Festival of Arts, 2/07
costumes by India Flint
In February this year the West Australian Ballet Company took the bold initiative of commissioning a new work as part of their Perth International Festival of Arts program. Called ‘debris,’ it featured music by Peter Sculthorpe and Philip Glass and choreography by Frances Rings. I was honoured to be asked to make the costumes.
Not only was the style of the dance different from the ballet’s mostly classical program, so were the costumes. Instead of tulle, tutus and tights, the dancers were clothed in soft silk-wool shifts over fine merino wool knits. In place of spangles and sequins, the fabrics were patterned with the rich colours of the landscape, dyed into the cloth using leaves, bark and flowers.
Leaves from Eucalyptus cinerea and E. sideroxylon for the dark reds;
leaves, bark and flowers from E.globulus and E. citriodora for browns, pinks and purples
Photo: Courtesy of India Flint
The costumes for ‘debris’ were developed in close consultation with Frances Rings—as I watched the lyrical choreography magically unfold in rehearsal. The ballet took for its subject ‘that which we use and subsequently discard’ and ‘the value of the lost and found.’ These themes are familiar territory for me and relate closely to my own ‘benedictus’ pieces. They’re made from second-hand goods and dye materials found in and around the Mount Lofty Ranges of Southern Australia, where I live.
Making re-crafted clothing, each piece unique and individually considered, is a slower kind of fashion … like slow food. The dyes come largely from windfall eucalypts (which give their beautiful aroma to the cloth) and roadside weeds (more poetically described as spontaneous flora), supplemented by plants grown in my garden. I avoid imported dyes as these are often harvested without due consideration.
For ‘debris,’ I chose silk and wool, two renewable textile resources whose production—when managed properly—can have less impact on the environment than organic cotton does. Also, I selected these fabrics for their rich and sumptuous feel, thinking of the dancers’ comfort.
The wool was used in its most refined form, a luxurious jersey, as well as sturdy hand-formed felt made of wool harvested from sheep at ‘Hope Springs,’ the property where I live and work. All these colours, sourced from Australia’s indigenous plants, are quite literally the colours of the land. I believe that when cloth is dyed in the very stuff of a country, some of the essence of that country remains in the work even when it travels far. Silk and wool both take up the vivid colours offered by eucalyptus dyes without adjunct chemical mordants; only water is needed to make the dye bath. This means that the cloth itself will not be shedding toxic substances onto the dancers’ skin as they work.
Scene from ‘debris’
Each segment of the ballet has its own particular essence. It begins with ‘dawn,’ moving into ‘shell’, ‘ash’, ‘bone’ and ‘stone.’ The dancers awaken under a huge cloth constructed of silk netting with wool felt and hand-stitching, shifting and moving until it gradually reveals them to the dawn. ‘Ash’ evokes consumption by the furious energy of fire, as much as the soft, cold remnant powdering underfoot when the fire burns out. Stone can be a tool, a foundation or the substance of memory. Throughout the shifting poetry of the performance, the dancers acquired and discarded these costumes on stage, like flesh leaving bone; finally, their forms were revealed beneath the last layer – a fine, skin-hugging wool jersey, the colour of red earth.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
May 1: Choose Your Paganism
On May Day, the old celebrations of Flora compete—and combine—with Labor’s muscular demonstrations.
With red tulips, pro-Communist supporters
turn out in Donetsk, Ukraine, May 1, 2007
Photo: Valeriy Belokryl, for Reuters
What’s your pleasure? Nymphs or rockets? Okay, then, Hard-to-Get, what about a truck-sized rat in papier mache?
May Day has it all, as this online cornucopia explains (though it fails to mention the rodent, a feature of May Day demonstrations this year in Jakarta). In the Northern Hemisphere seams on the stems have burst, letting go with fever and flowers.
“Every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May.”
That’s not Hugh Hefner but Sir Thomas Malory, 1485.
May 1 is a show of force, which, as we all know, comes in many forms. But face it. Today, they’re phallic. It’s hard to believe that the pre-teens at prim girls’ schools—like the one we attended—could dance straight-faced around “the May Pole” in front of parents and teachers. It was a case of mass obliviousness (one of many) that we all managed to overlook the Uber Erection. This was a rite passed down from Celtic ancestors (the school was all-Anglo then) via the beribboned era of Victoria’s reign.
Union activists demonstrate for better wages in Lahore, Pakistan, May 1, 2007
Their banner blends emblems for workers in agriculture, light manufacturing and industry
Photo: Arif Ali, for AFP
There’s of course, another show of force today, too. In Cuba, Germany, Thailand, and elsewhere, workers flex their muscle with parades and demonstrations. For much of the world, this is Labor Day. Some contend that’s because on May 1, 1886, the eight-hour work day came into effect in the U.S., a victory won by the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. That could well be the reason, but we think more significant is the much older and earthy expression of power erupting, now! ‘“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower….” Dylan Thomas called it.
Fuses and phalluses, put ‘em together and what have you got? Huge May Day parades of the former Soviet Union. Pointy warheads laid tenderly in trailer beds would roll through the streets of Moscow amid red flags, tanks, and portraits of Lenin, looking quite the satyr with his rakish beard. It was all the heavy metal counterpart to our May Day in ballet shoes at Collegiate School.
Far-fetched? Please read this fascinating essay by Peter Linebaugh about the “Red” and “Green” sides of May Day (via interactivist.net). “Green is creation of desire; Red is class struggle. May Day is both,” he writes.
Communist Party members sell traditional May Day muguets (Lilies of the Valley) in Lyon, France
(the flier opposing right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is presumably free)
Photo: Robert Pratta, for Reuters
It’s getting harder to see the two faces of this occasion at once. The May basket tradition of Annapolis, Maryland, is all gussy loveliness, the arrest of 550 demonstrators today in Istanbul all fists. But we offer a few blendings here, images from Pakistan, France, and the Ukraine.
In these culturally rich societies, Flora somehow manages to walk hand in hand with Mars.