Thursday, November 29, 2012

Drawer # 5.7 : Scraps & Fake Flowers

How one thing leads to another:

I was under some dark theft star one night last week, very unusual here: in the evening, a pickpocket, sneaking up behind me in the dark, tried to get into my purse; the following morning, I discovered that during the night some other knave had nicked the ceramic flower box that was home to our kitchen window morning glories, leaving all their poor naked roots dangling helplessly in the wind. The pickpocket I grabbed and told off (in my best Anglo-Saxon) & got on with things if a little shaky with adrenaline. But the flowerbox broke my heart. Our neighbor & housekeeper, Wu Fang, wrote 素质差 (su4 zhi4 cha4) on my phone which my (life-saving) Pleco translation app translated as “So ignorant! So uneducated!”

All summer the morning glories had brought pleasure to our neighbors who use the narrow walled-in lane behind our block of rowhouses, for washing vegetables in their outdoor kitchen sinks & hanging out laundry on the bamboo poles overhead. I’d look up from my own (indoor) sink to see someone paused in their path to gaze for a moment at the unexpected beauty of the vines. Once, an elderly man who had once lived in America as a chemistry professor, spoke to me approvingly as I watered the flowerbox: “I think you are very comfortable in China.” (Not.)

So morning glories gone but determined not to be robbed of beauty outside my kitchen window, I plotted my own theft…

And stoled the idea from the artist Jim Hodges of a giant “curtain” made up of dissected, flattened artificial flowers. Hodges’ curtain at SFMoMA seemed like an insane task of labor even before I tried my hand at it, & now that I am trying my hand at it, I'm exponentially in awe. But the really interesting part is dissecting the artificial flowers: like botanical drawing in reverse. I’ve always been a snob about fake flowers, thinking them cheap & trashy but now that I see the amount of hand labor that goes in, the number of specialized plastic widgets that create the shape of the blossoms, the various texturing of the leaves, stamens, berries, the hand-dying of the blossoms, it's an amazing world! Who knew! I feel like I’ve stumbled into a secret sphere of the universe.

I once heard the poet Billie Collins say that the true subject of poetry is death. By which I think he meant impermanence. He compared a fresh flower to an artificial one, a fresh flower having a power of beauty that an artificial flower does not precisely because we know that the fresh flowers beauty is fleeting, something we must see it in the moment or we will miss it. But now, dissecting the fake flowers, and seeing the attention with which someone (who?! even Google keeps that secret pretty well) has studied nature & tried to capture it, to fix its moment of glory in time, there's this vast beauty of life, of the creative spirit in that too.

You can tell I'm a little enraptured.

Drawer 5.7 from the bottom up: 1. random bits of plastic tying string collected on the street
 2. left over scraps of painted cardboard 3. bits of artificial flowers picked up from the stairwell of my studio building where numerous wedding photographers ply their trade 4. a ball of ubiquitous pink plastic tying string protected by a blue styrofoam pear protector
photo credit: Bruno David

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