The Flower Show

January 2000

Publication: The Times

The extent to which any exhibition is successful is often due in large part to curatorial flair. When the exhibition is based on a single theme (as is the Flower Show ) curatorial imput becomes all the more important for the show’s success.  This input should allow unexpected  and exciting  connections to be made between  what can be highly disparate work.  The theme gives the show coherence, direction and purpose.

line-height:150%">All of these three qualities are manifestly lacking here, reducing a promising and potentially binding concept to a mere gimick.  While several of the exhibits are interesting in themselves — and of high quality — the links between individual works tend towards the superficial and the glib. Although all of the work relates in some way to flowers, any attempt to find a deeper , underlying connectivity will prove mostly futile.

That said, a number of the exhibits are, by turns, beautiful, entertaining and complex.  For example Willem Van Zoetendaal’s  reconfigured archive photographs of tulips, hyacinths and other flowers, originally taken in the 1920s by the Dutch photographer Leendert Blok, manage to preserve what one imagines to be the primitive, rather experimental quality of the originals (they were made using a complex photographic process, the forerunner of modern ‘slide’ film technology).  At the same time, they have a contemporaneity which marks them as products of our own age, rather than  replicated versions of the past. As such, they are more than simply reproductions of flowers, but artefacts in their own right which combine subject matter, technique and artistic sensitivity in a coherent whole.

line-height:150%">It would be difficult to imagine more of a contrast between Zoetandaal’s reinterpretations and Lei Cox’s video and audio environment created with computer technology.  In a darkened room on two adjacent screens are projected images of flying human-insects against an unchanging sky, which are periodically “zapped”.   In the body of the room are a range of large “flowers” — actually, plastic forms which carry speakers and lights.  From these a series of utterances e.g. “I love you” issue forth, timed to events on the screens.  Cox  was apparently inspired by watching NATO training flights while on a Fife beach.  There is  an entertaining theatricality — albeit on a short loop — surrounding this work and it probably appeals greatly to children (without demeaning its effectiveness in any way).

line-height:150%">If there is any more profound linkage here, then it is between Cox’s work and Ian Hamilton Finlay’s ‘Camouflaged Flowers’ in which Finlay uses some of the many ironies thrown up by war to great effect.  Like many of Finlay’s works, the principle is simple yet highly effective.  During the second world war the Royal  Navy deployed a number of corvettes, which had names derived from flowers: lavender, campion etc.  Finlay has created anagrams from these —‘Verleand’, ‘Incomap’ etc. — and placed these words on the gallery walls, adjacent to silhouette transfers of the boats themselves.  The work’s effectiveness derives, in part, from the contrast between these stark mechanistic images and the more overtly “floral” nature of the other works.

line-height:150%">Another gifted artist in this show, Mike Glier, uses plants as a vehicle for extended essays in form and structure.  Flowers become a starting point for the development of architectural space and allow numerous parallels to be drawn between natural and human-made environments.

line-height:150%">Generally, however, this show is disappointing because it fails to take advantage of the great potential the subject has to offer.  Few of the artists seem to acknowledge  the great ‘flower’ painters of the past — Matisse, O’Keefe and Van Gogh to name a few — and only one, Mat Collishaw, makes explicit reference to this long tradition by citing Arcimboldo’s portraiture as a direct influence.

line-height:150%">A Scottish contribution which could have made reference to MacDiarmid’s ‘Little White Rose’, to Burns’ red rose and poppies, or to the politco-historic associations of the “flowers of the forest” is also, surprisingly and noticeably, absent.


line-height:150%">The Flower Show

line-height:150%">The Fruitmarket Gallery

line-height:150%">45 Market Street


line-height:150%">0131 225 2383

line-height:150%">Until 15 Jan


Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 12-01-00