MADDER LAKE ED. #7: Context is Everything

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CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING of the AOIFA National Flower Festival, Ardee, County Louth💀

By ALAN PHELAN | November 11, 2017


Content is the glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It’s very tiny—very tiny, content. (William de Kooning, in an interview)


It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible. (Oscar Wilde, in a letter)


[ Epigraphs from Susan Sontag’s essay ‘Against Interpretation’ (1966) suggested by James Merrigan]


There is some kind of circular logic that should apply when you have to write about flowers through flowers. The language of flowers spoken here however is not simple or ready to decode with a handy glossary.*


Gerbera  (I'll try harder)

Gerbera (I'll try harder)


It is more like a dialect or patois, specific to a particular community or tribe. The detail is different and difficult, like a technical language**, but importantly not riddled with jargon. 



Cosmos  (Sophistication, Mystery)

Cosmos (Sophistication, Mystery)


This is a language that does not seek translation*** and possibly not even interpretation. The obvious parallel is with the language of the artworld, where artists develop their own syntax of materials and ideas to create visual statements. 



Iris  (Message, Wisdom)

Iris (Message, Wisdom)


Sometimes this language becomes so introverted, private or dense that viewers can only marvel at the form, as the content is seemingly unavailable****. 



Aster  (Afterthought, Patience)

Aster (Afterthought, Patience)


Form in floral art shares these characteristics with content*****.



Bouvardia  (Enthusiasm)

Bouvardia (Enthusiasm)


The difference is that these flowers do not require the language of criticism or deference to history. They are very current and determinedly****** yet inevitably, ephemeral. 



Alstroemeria  (Pleasantries, Devotion)

Alstroemeria (Pleasantries, Devotion)


They also have a criticality beyond binaries and observations of symmetry, flow, or contrast. The potentiality of the staging is everything, taking several months to develop yet unfolding over a few hours. Fleeting perhaps, but anchored in an ongoing community of active agents*******. 



Dianthus  (Admiration)

Dianthus (Admiration)


Strict yet nebulous themes produced a wide variety of forms that attempted to break the standard triangular and circular or square arrangements. They often did, perched on pews or swarming in a crowded corner of gravestones. 



Bupleurum Griffithii  (Power)

Bupleurum Griffithii (Power)


This all happened in the context of two churches and a community centre, organised primarily by women for women********, with everyone welcome of course*********. 



Anthurium  (Hospitality, Abundance)

Anthurium (Hospitality, Abundance)


There were a few men involved but the gender equality portrayed on the TV report on the event played to the natural misogyny********** of our national broadcaster***********. 



Ammi  (Fantasy, Femininity) 

Ammi (Fantasy, Femininity) 


These arrangements do not televise easily. Edible flowers or sons devoted to their dying parents make better stories. This misrepresentation offered a soft criticism that revealed insecurities instead. These are not flowers for flowers sake, they have a better purpose than mere narrative, they are not weak and pretty. 



Chrysanthemum  (Cheerfulness under Adversity)

Chrysanthemum (Cheerfulness under Adversity)


This is not a demonstration************. 



Freesia  (Lasting friendship)

Freesia (Lasting friendship)


Alan Phelan is an artist based in Dublin.


*This text is about the AOIFA National Flower Festival “Celtic Way” held in Ardee, June 2017. It was written for Natalie Czech for her “A Critic’s Bouquet” project where a writer footnotes a text with flowers which is then realised as a bouquet which is photographed, see : [here]

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