handmade paper thistles and shopbought plastics
Weed Vitrine Liz Day
This project plays on habits of shopping and display and consisted of a window jammed full of flowers of the plastic extruded variety and delicate hand-crafted paper replicas of Scottish thistles. In an Australian context all were imported flora and, from an ecological standpoint, could be regarded as weeds. Day had collected as many different kinds of flora as she could find replicated in plastic, rather than more up market replicas in silk. Plastic has a certain industrial, mass market cheapness which says ‘buy me’ in a way that more up market replications do not. The aim was for a riot of profusion and robustness, the cheaper plastic flowers literally proliferating like weeds in the broader social landscape of more refined décor. The plastic flowers screamed commerce and exchange value while the contrast to the hand-made thistles drew attention to processes of making and craft, in the manner of Heidegger’s techne, smaller acts of making in contrast to mass production and mass spread.
An implicit low key gag running through the display was the tendency of thistles, the well-known weed and accidental import with the nasty spikes, to spread. Mixing the thistles with flora ostensibly representing European cultivation – the various roses, daisies, orchids and other recognizable garden and florist shop flowers, in the absence of any natives – invariably signaled a shift in signification to weed. Roses might be prettier, and as thorny, and less contaminatory (less tendency to spread) but are, in the native context, a variety of import, or weed. As the saying goes, a flower in the wrong place is a weed.
As such Day was questioning history, provenance, colonization, ecology and the market economy through the Hallmark greeting card sentiment of the language of flowers. Indeed what were her flowers saying? Aesthetically gorgeous, a riot of abundance and colour, the project semi-mimicked the flower shop just sufficiently for people to hover until the shopfront door opened with the ambition to purchase, to appreciate, spread and proliferate the contagion of taste and style. The flowers, as replicas, were both real and unreal, the real thing and a representation, in the way that plastic flowers as objects in themselves literally are as much their own thing as a natural flower.
Mixing it up with the nastier, through still pretty, purple flower of the thistle, Day was drawing attention to the power of circulation of the English style, and our various preferences for colonization through the imposition of style and taste, of unconscious, unthinking adherence to Englishness, a flicking the bird to the local. Cheekily, the Scottish thistle, a bane to local gardeners and farmers in Kandos, was the only fine-craft object, carefully handmade and signifying ‘art object’, while the roses, though attractive, were rubbishy plastic knock-offs. Day had inverted the style and taste hierarchies of value, making us question why we value what and where, and to reflect on contagions of place.
The work also drew on associations with local architectural imports, recalling the famous flower shop scene in Hitchcok’s Vertigo. Kandos might not be as hilly as San Francisco but it does have considerable hills and a prominent museum in Spanish Mission style, complete with bell tower, that could have come straight out of Hitchock’s film. What historical processes brought Californian Spanish Mission style, and its nuns, to the Mudgee region? Through the metaphor of commerce, in the imaginary circulation of cut flowers, Day connects to the shops’ own history and that of the town as represented through its architecture. Further, through making use of the shop as shop, in the jumble of a not quite florist’s installation, she is creating a permeable relationship with the town, in her flirtations with the desire to purchase.
One young man was wanting to buy some of the flowers for his girlfriend, as if recognizing some other quality to this display than the more readily available plastic flowers for sale in the nearby supermarket. (Day had chosen anything more weedlike and unusual and added this to her mix.) While the young man would never give supermarket plastic flowers to his girlfriend, but could give her the real thing, there was something very different in the status of Day’s display that signaled something giftworthy and beautiful. There was thus a more permeable quality to this project, an ambiguity that placed it ostensibly in the everyday of shopping and more personal acts of gifting that were outside ‘art’ and yet pertained of its qualities.