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Not a Rose

A rose is a rose is a rose

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Qui du cul d’un chien s’amourose, Il lui paraît une rose

Man knows himself only to the extent that he knows the world; he becomes aware of himself only within the world, and aware of the world only within himself. Every new object, well contemplated, opens up a new organ of perception in us.

The flowers depicted in Not a Rose are photographic documentations of sculptures composed mainly out of animal organs, posed in different natural environments. The photographs make the flowers appear to be “real,” so real that it is quite difficult to see that they are, in fact, constructions. They are supposed to look like simple snapshots, or at most “art photographs” of flowers. They appear convincing, in part, as a consequence of visual habit and expectation.

Not a Rose began as an innocent question: Why do flowers exert such a strong and immediate emotional impact on me and, I assume, many, if not most, others? Why do we find them so invigorating, so uplifting, calming, and consoling? In my somewhat perverse way, I immediately imagined a scenario that would undermine the normal relationship between human and flower, perceiver and perceived, at first as something of a personal thought experiment, but then as the basis for a more general exploration of aesthetic reception, the sociology/anthropology of beauty, and, always lurking in the background, the whole question of the human exploitation of the natural world.

For some years I have been working with biological materials – animal skin, flesh, and organs – to create art that addresses issues of personal identity, gender roles, appearance and reality, subject and object, the moral, ethical, and political dimensions of meat production and consumption, and a wide range of other topics. The idea of creating flowers out of animal offal was, thus, a quite natural extension of my work in that eccentric medium and seemed to me to be a great way both to cut through the accretion of social determinants of aesthetic reception and to specifically thematize the ways in which codified expectations play a defining role in what we think of as beautiful, or, for that matter, as morally acceptable. I rather think of the idea of beauty as having seemingly incompatible, but quite real, dimensions, similar to the wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics. On the one hand, beauty is certainly a universal, and unitary, concept; on the other, it is a social construct, one that changes over time and place. It is utterly useless, and yet it everywhere seems to serve ulterior purposes. The doomed effort to compel these aspects to coincide, or to make one somehow exhaust the other, is at the basis of our distrust of the concept itself, though the very tension is what I believe actually keeps it vital.

The flowers with which we normally surround ourselves are dead detached sex organs from living things, bred explicitly to serve our pleasure, not our sustenance. The animal materials of which the sculptural flowers of the present collaboration have been created undeniably derive from living creatures bred solely to die for our sustenance, but I use only the “worthless” waste products of that process, that is, they serve no, or only an incidental, role in alimentation – lungs, hearts, stomachs, livers, tongues, bladders and, yes, sex organs as well. Their presence excites abhorrence in us, while that of the defiled plant confers joy.

The biological and social purpose of even the demurest flower is seduction. My flowers are also intended to seduce, but only to seduce the unthinking into thought and the thinking into imagining. In creating images of beautiful flowers from animal parts that most of us would find impossible to consume (even though we eat the flesh of those very same animals, most of them victims of mechanized mass slaughter) without a thought. I want subtly to remind my viewer that his or her every act of mindless consumption is an abdication of our moral and ethical substance, to arouse reflection where there had been mere reflex. We want to be seduced by beauty, to permit difficult questions to remain lingering unasked, hidden behind its veil.

The titles of the artwork, the names of the flowers, have been “scientized” – they are called by simple Latin names reflecting the materials from which they have been formed, for example, Aures Porcorum (pig ears) – so as to minimize even the effects of linguistic association. Of course, the question of historical, social, or gender-specific substrates remains largely untouched by this method. The tension or aporia created by looking upon something beautiful which is, in fact, for most viewers something repulsive, is the locus for my collaborators’ thoughts and meditations for the book:

I have invited 101 colleagues in the fields of anthropology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, philology, botany, neuroscience, art history, gender studies, physics, chemistry, sensory studies, etc., as well as poets and writers to addressed my questions from a plurality of scientific and humane perspectives, . Each uses the experience and concept of the flower and my own “Flowers of Evil” as a platform for their writing. The result is a diverse and extensive, inherently rhizomatic network of image and thought, which interrogates the very process of aesthetic perception and reception itself.

Heide Hatry, 2012