Human Flower Project

Art & Media

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Domestication, Under This Tree

The old trees of Cambridge and Oxford are riddled with association. How do you elude history and fall into the nature of nature?

image Jesus Green

Essay and photos by John Levett

I spent my career in primary education. I don’t miss what it became. I left teaching in 2003 and haven’t set foot into a school since.

If I were asked what I think of the changes that have taken place over the last decade I couldn’t give a coherent answer, no longer following beyond the headlines.

My dissociation with primary education came to me a few months back when I was passing by Park Street School in Cambridge. It’s a long-established church-aided school close by Jesus Green. In good weather the children use the Green as their playground. What took my ear as I walked past was the singing from the school hall.

Under the spreading chestnut tree,

Where I knelt upon my knee,

We were as happy as could be,

Under the spreading chestnut tree.

For those of my generation and before, the song will be familiar, not for its words but for the actions that go with it—the replacement of the word by the action (spread, chest, nut, tree). There’s a film of King George VI (he of the voice) doing the business at a scout camp. I recall it always dissolving into a confusion of arms, hands and elbows.

What made me pause that day was the surprise that ‘singing’ as nothing beyond its appreciation and fun still had a place within a primary school. I’d assumed that anything that didn’t make an instrumental contribution to capitalist accumulation had been stricken from the curriculum.

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Posted by Julie on 01/10 at 06:58 PM
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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Curtain Rises on BOTANICA

A new play questions the human mastery of plant life in a “creepy futuristic black comedy.”


The Janitor (Chet Mazur) gets intimate with a flowering plant in BOTANICA, a play by Jeff Jackson and Jim Findlay.

Photo: Paula Court

“If frowzy little houseplants cry

For French Surrealists,

Why, oh, why can’t I?...”

Not a lyric from BOTANICA, soon to premiere in New York City, but we offer producer Joel Bassin the lines anyway. Thanks, Joel, for letting us know that this Human Flower Project will begin previews later this month. The play opens February 1.

Written by Jeff Jackson and Jim Findlay, BOTANICA takes place in a sealed “humanterrarium,” where two plant scientists are busy with experiments. But it appears to be the research facility’s janitor who’s really plumbing the mysteries of botany. The caretaker, played by Chet Mazur, stays up late reading French surrealist poetry and his own erotic verse to the green subjects.

Bassin explains, “Initially the experiments seem to demonstrate an astonishing scope of plant consciousness, but eventually the botanists hit a dead end. They decide to bring the janitor into their research.” What happens next? You’ll have to see the play to find out, though Bassin promises a taste of “chaos.” 

The play includes literary works by George Bataille and Louis Aragon, and draws too from Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird’s 1973 best seller The Secret Life of Plants as well as the scientific discoveries of Jagadish Chandra Bose.

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Posted by Julie on 01/04 at 11:02 PM
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Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Rim

John Levett tracks the “inherent restlessness” of plants, people, structures, de-structures—and memory—along the Thames’ tributaries.


Northern Approach

Photo: John Levett

By John Levett

Back in the ‘80s Paul Burwell [RIP], Anne Bean and Richard Wilson formed the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, described once as “a multi-media urban-junk-and-pyrotechnics percussion trio” and famously performing ‘Concrete Barges’ at Rainham Marshes on the Thames Estuary and coming close to self-drowning. I read about Paul Burwell’s death in an edition of The Wire sometime last year. He’d moved up to Hull (something about estuaries) and had fallen into a routine of alcohol consumption that contributed to his early death.

It’s curious how one often uses names of groups, products, organizations as a simple matter of naming without considering their origin. It was only last week that I clocked the London 2012 trademark and noticed that it actually pictured the numerals ‘2012’ having previously taken it as a random splash of flashes that was a signifier for something I wasn’t going to research. I’m currently going through the Beatles archive for long defunct cultural references and turns of speech. Thus it came as a slap on the forehead when I realised one crisp morning last January that Bow Gamelan referred to Bow in London’s East End.

The occasion was a detour organised for one of the urbanist groups that I convene. We met at Three Mills not far from Bromley-by-Bow tube station, and it was during the introduction that Burwell, Gamelan and Bow came together. Our group had done some work last year in the East End around Shadwell and the liminal environments close by the Isle of Dogs and we were back there to explore the cuts through to the Thames estuary.

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Posted by Julie on 12/12 at 03:20 PM
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Friday, December 09, 2011

Thread-Brazen: Ooty’s Garden

Mumbai writer Lubna Kably discovers a garden in Tamil Nadu that stays in bloom year round. Thank you, Lubna!


Embroidered “houseplants”, including Begonia Rex,

Thread Garden in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

Photo: Shomita Mukherjee

By Lubna Kably

Ooty, known as the Queen of the Hills, lies in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu and is rich in flora. Wild flowers sprout along walking tracks, tea gardens flourish on the slopes, a myriad varieties of trees especially the eucalyptus tower overhead. Yet, bang opposite a well known tourist landmark – the Lake—lies the Thread Garden.

It took twelve years and a dedicated team of 50 trained workers to create this garden, using a ‘self invented’ technology of four dimensional hand woven embroidery.

“This unique art of creating natural looking plants and flowers makes use of self developed techniques under the ‘Hand-wound Embroidery system’ without needles or machinery with specially selected and developed materials. All parts of a plant such as flower petals, leaves and stems are fully wound with thread using a shaped canvas bases inside for flowers and leaves and steel and copper wires for stems with keen concentration coupled with patience, keeping a machine made perfection, avoiding any overlapping or knots or gaps between the windings.”

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Posted by Julie on 12/09 at 01:44 PM
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