‘The constant and cold selection of beauty alone is the reality that surrounds plants,’ Flora Magnifica also observes, another little-considered angle on an apparently innocuous subject. Few other aspects of nature are bred with such forensic ruthlessness for their appearance. Flower shops are like catwalks, where arbitrary fashions dictate which plants thrive, and which are deselected. Seventeenth century Holland’s infamous attack of tulip fever, during which fortunes rose and fell speculating on rare refinements of the species, shows how far such thinking can go.
Floral designers also distort and alter natural contexts. In doing so, they can suggest a secret dream-life of plants, lying disturbingly close to the animal kingdom. In Azuma and Shiinoki’s work, an Arctic poppy’s rouged lips pucker atop a long green neck; brown, mollusc shapes hang bat-like in the dark; fungi grow saurian scales; crinkled green leaves resemble corrugated cardboard; fecund pomegranates split, spilling seed, and a Yulan magnolia isn’t the only flower that is exactly vulva-like.
The deeper implications of the apparently innocuous art of floral design keep returning. There is a reason that British culture sometimes seems best expressed in our gardens, while the country we can’t cultivate waits outside the gate like our subconscious in downland, moor and heath.
Like the feminine curves and masculine thrusts with which landscapes resemble the human body, they make you reassess how separate we really are from the planet we presume to rule.
Nick Hasted @ theartsdesk