Georges Bataille’s essay, The Language of Flowers¹, on the symbolic nature of the flower is a revealing text wherein Bataille draws parallels between the anatomy of the flower and the human body as well as his interpretation of the nature of seduction, beauty, love, and death as understood through the flower’s physical and historically condensed characteristics.
This exhibition takes Bataille’s essay as a starting point and aperture through which we can focus on different artists that have incorporated the flower into their work in various forms. The exhibition investigates a range of different works from such artists as Robert Beck, Louise Bourgeoise, Pia Fries, Ori Gersht, Jim Hodges, Butt Johnson, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Andy Warhol.
Bataille’s characteristic idiosyncrasies are conveyed through his modes of analysis that shift between the phenomenological and the psychoanalytic. Departing from the Victorian era “Language of Flowers” or “Floriography”; a coded means of communication through which lovers would convey unspoken messages using different flowers… red roses for passionate love, white for chastity or virtue and so on. Bataille ventures past the romantic lexicon stripping the petals away to reveal what he deems at times to be the hidden vulgarity of the flower’s inner anatomy… its lesser seen stamens and pistils eventually arriving at the transitory nature of beauty through the flower’s withering death that ensues after time.
Bataille set forth to describe some of the ways in which natural models shape the space that separates experience from knowledge. In this exhibition each artist uses the flower in a uniquely different way, at times the floral body is imbued with the erotic while at others it lies in the path of violence and destruction or simply offers a structural means for the formal gestural.
1 first published in the surrealist magazine Documents, in 1929