Human Flower Project


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Memory Fails Me Not

John Levett, venturing after poet Philip Larkin, recreates his own past —true to the present.

imageAt Hull University

Essay and photos by John Levett

About a week ago I delivered a presentation entitled ‘Refractory memory.’ Some of the definitions of ‘refractory’ include obstinate, stubborn, mulish, pigheaded, obdurate, headstrong, self-willed, wayward, wilful, perverse, contrary, recalcitrant, obstreperous, disobedient, difficult. For this the research group, I was presenting work derived from a four day stay in the city of Hull on the Humber estuary; in the context of my own photographic practice, I was reflecting upon the persistence of pronounced subjects in the images that I capture. I was also asking why I keep returning to Hull. Screen dissolve.

In the first week of October 1964 I travelled up to Hull to the university. I stayed for three days. It was the first of five universities that I went to in the ‘60s. I could never settle to the life. It has only been of late that I have recognised the processes by which I learn and none of the places I went to in that decade let me get on with my own curriculum. With Hull, however, I never gave it a chance.

I went up on the Monday in a friend’s car and we arrived long after nightfall. I woke up in the morning in the hall of residence I’d been assigned, took a look around the barracks, found out it was miles from the campus and started making my exit plans. Day two included a talk by the librarian on what to expect. He stood above us (on a stage? on a podium? just tall?) and said: “I feel like Hitler or John Lennon.” It was at this point that I missed a trick. Anyone who comes out with a first line like that in the retentive context of the provincial university of that time is no bore. If he’d then read ‘This Be The Verse’ then I’d have taken notice, bought the book and hung around. He didn’t as he hadn’t written it yet, and he’d have found self-promotion vulgar anyway.

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Posted by Julie on 10/12 at 11:30 AM
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Friday, September 30, 2011

Alpine Valley Down by the Alley

Allen Bush explores alpine possibilities in the Ohio River Valley. What a view!

By Allen Bush

imageEritrichium canum Hybrid ‘Baby Blues’

Photo: Allen Bush

It happened so fast. One day I’m “shovel ready” on cheap landscape jobs in Louisville, Kentucky, and the next, I’m falling in love with tight buns in London. (Trust me: You won’t find buns like these in the bakery!)

Ground hugging Dionysias and Saxifragas became a brief obsession over thirty years ago when I lived and gardened in England. I was introduced to a wide world of rock garden and alpine plants through the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, as well as from the glorious displays of nurserymen and enthusiasts at the Royal Horticultural Society Flower Shows at Vincent Square, 1978-1979.

There, to behold, was a level of horticultural expertise I could never have imagined. Names like the Ingwersens, Eliotts, Jack Drake, Kate Dryden and Tony Hall were glittering stars of my new galaxy.  They delivered littler plants, plucked from cold frames and glass houses, and grown to perfection in shallow terra cotta bulb pans. They brought familiar woodland ephemerals like Trilliums and lady slippers, too, which I knew and loved.  I was pleased the Ohio Valley and southern Appalachians - my neck of the woods - were so well represented.

But “alpines” were in a different class altogether – from the tall mountains. I had never seen tall mountains before nor set foot anywhere close to these cute buns—or cushion plants.  My world expanded. I had a connection, now, to towering ranges. These “high” enthusiasts, who loved their munchkin plants, got around. There were tales of adventurous explorers prying small plant pieces from thin, rocky crevices or harvesting a few seeds. I was hooked.

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Posted by Julie on 09/30 at 03:28 PM
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Friday, September 09, 2011

Twin Towers : Himalayan Mayapples

Plantsman Allen Bush was on a collecting trip in Sichuan, China, on 9/11. Ten years later, he remembers the helplessness of distance and the security gained from two tiny companions, their feet on the ground.


Alpine flowers on the way to Zhe Duo Pass, China

Photo: Pam Spaulding

By Allen Bush

I was with a group of plant explorers in Kanding, China on the evening of September 11, 2001. We’d just finished dinner. One of our Chinese drivers, known as the Wrench for his mechanical skills, knew I liked to check emails. He asked me and Pierre Bennerup if we wanted to go to an Internet café.

We’d been in China for over a week and were scheduled to travel throughout western Sichuan for another three weeks.  Internet access was widely available across China, usually on very slow dial-up modems. Even in remote towns where farmers were herding yaks down a rutted muddy street and laundry was being done on a rock down by the river, you could find the Internet.  Competition flourished with one café in the Sichuan mountain town of Moxi charging $2.00 an hour, another down the street charging a cutthroat $1.00. The smoky cafes were filled with teenagers playing shoot ‘em-up games.

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Posted by Julie on 09/09 at 10:44 AM
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kecak: Invented Tradition

A wordless film of global wonders includes an astonishing Balinese dance. What’s hibiscus doing here?


Kecak performers, with hibiscus behind the ear, in Bali

At our beloved downtown brocade-walls and bad-velveteen-seats movie theater – the Paramount – we caught the late show of Baraka. This is Ron Fricke’s 1992 cinematic shriek, shot in 70 mm – a God’s eye view of flaming oilfields in Kuwait, drowsy Japanese monkeys, Rio slums, flamingo herds ad magnificum.

Many have written that the wordless film glorifies the natural world and condemns humankind’s waste and cruelty. That’s not how we saw it. Instead, Baraka, with its immense vistas and bellowing soundtrack, strikes us as a testament of power —both human and non-human. It witnesses that the forces of culture are as resounding as volcanoes and waterfalls.

Surely the strongest scene of the film is the three minute performance of kecak, a Balinese art that, to the uninitiated, is compelling and bizarre. (The youtube clip is lively but not much like seeing and hearing this interlude in the dark on the big screen.)

The Balinese “Monkey chant,” as it’s often translated into English, takes place in a circular open-air stage and includes “upwards of 60 men dressed only in sarongs, each with a red hibiscus planted behind his ear.” Following a choral leader with throbbing motions and clacking sounds, they (purportedly) re-enact a tale from the Hindu Ramayama.

Honestly, we couldn’t follow any storyline, but as post-modern entertainment, so much the better: Kecak is one big “Wow!” The strength and the shallowness too of Fricke’s majestic film is that lacking any context, the glorious imagery and booming audio become strangely flat. At the end of 90 minutes, we’ve been stuffed with beggers and eclipses, cigarette factories and throngs at Mecca, snow-capped peaks and Tokyo subways. It’s a sensory pig-out but, eliding any understanding, Baraka is guilty of the same mindless excesses it wants to damn.

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Posted by Julie on 08/31 at 10:39 AM
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