Our Love is like the flowers. The Rain. The Sea. And the Hours.
This image uses a reproduction of a painting called "A Basket of Roses" by Henri Fantin-Latour. The painting is housed in the National Gallery in London, and it was there that Peter Saville came upon it while looking for inspiration for the cover of the second New Order album, "Power, Corruption, and Lies" (1983). Saville has said that the flowers "suggested the means by which power, corruption, and lies infiltrate our lives. They're seductive." The chromatic color-code bar Saville placed in the top right corner lets you know that you are indeed looking at the album cover rather than the painting. I once learned very well that in these late days of Capitalism, power functions panoptically, as Foucault had it, and that we rarely need to be forced to behave. I'm okay with the suggestion made by the pretty bar code (it can be 'read' using the color wheel printed on the back cover of the album) here that there is a dark commodification of nature that occurs in the harvesting, repackaging, and resale of desire in general and flowers in particular that is akin to other problematic aspects of capital that "infiltrate" our lives through "power, corruption, and lies." The conflict between this title and the image on the album is elaborated by the music, which is at once synthetic, repetitive, confessional, personal, political, dystopian, sexy, broken, and alive. We might be inside the grid, it promises, but we can still create, fuck, and fight. Reification is another, compact, description of this transformation of interactions and feelings into things. Marx saw commodity fetishism in this process, but like the vulnerability and sensuality that the flowers retain, we know this is only part of the story. Movement from the abstract to the concrete is also how art works, how books happen. The transposition of all of that inner work into something that can take form on the outside. "Oh our love, is like the earth. The sun and the trees and the birth." Is this desire? Is this where our work as floral designers steps in?
When I finally had business cards made for my fledgling flower business, I selected several different pictures of arrangements and had them printed on the tail side of the cards. One of the first people I gave my card to flipped it over and said, "Cool, Joy Division." I just smiled and said, "Uh-huh." I knew what he meant and I kind of like the slippage. He meant New Order and he meant the cover of this album and Henri Fantin-Latour. There are certainly other trends in floral design. Some people still do mall flowers. A kind of hybrid white girl secular ikebana has been very popular in the Instagram feed lately. Some florists are driven more by shape than color, etc. But the deeply romantic arrangements moody in color, dripping with expensive garden roses that smell of times before they were bred for hardiness and supermarkets, peppered with mesmerizing Japanese ranunculus and wildflowers, with their soft movement and masterful layers, these dominate. Seductive, as Peter Saville had it. Satisfying in the way that a beautiful old car or a perfectly designed piece of furniture or a photograph can speak from the past. Artisans, I think. The old world, they whisper. Denise Scott Brown sites Louis Kahn's teaching that, "...while an artist may sculpt a car with square wheels to symbolise something, we architects must design them with wheels that work. It's an interesting difference--perhaps the interesting difference--and if you believe no art can come from it, I think you're wrong." There is, of course, nothing functional about an arrangement of flowers; nonetheless, their intermediary function as muse or messenger or energetic focal point both serves a purpose and is generally not categorized as art. Unlike other artisanal work, we don't actually make the flowers, although that is usually the verb we use when florists talk about what we did at work today. We use the flowers, but their making is so many steps removed from our hands.
I read that Fantin-Latour was taught to commit the object of a still life to memory, then take it apart, then paint. I watched a video where a man tells a story about Agnes Martin, another master of the grid, noticing that his granddaughter was captivated by a rose in Martin's home where they were visiting. She asked the girl if the rose was beautiful, and the little girl replied yes, this rose is beautiful. Then Martin took the rose and held it behind her back and asked, is the rose still beautiful? The little girl said that yes, it was still beautiful. "Beauty is not in the rose," Martin told her. "Beauty is in your mind." I've got the spirit, Joy Division sang. Don't lose the feeling. Feeling. Sensation. At the end of his life Roland Barthes, key member of the Structuralist brat pack, began to sing a very different tune. Camera Lucida, his last book, was an investigation of sensation. Of feeling. I would argue that these are all ways of engaging memory. Of asking about narrative. Of knowing, as Yvonne Rainer has it, that "Feelings are facts." As floral designers, I think we also agree that there are other ways of seeing and learning. There is a language of flowers. It is very seductive indeed, and we say yes. Yes, please.