My research began with an exploration of light and the sublime within the botanical aesthetic but has evolved into something more cultural, representative, and perhaps even autobiographical. Using flowers as symbols and a sign of colonial ‘cultivation’, I am exploring the tense and dynamic relationships across cultures but most specifically in South Africa (where I grew up) and the United Kingdom (some of my ancestral links). I am particularly interested in the diaspora within colonial and post-colonial frameworks and the issues of identity associated with this. I am discovering these cultural tensions and patterns through botanical mapping and symbolism such as the Protea (national flowers) as well as maps, craft and photography. My techniques employ digital design, craft, beading, painting, drawing, film and even installation.
What really struck me about flowers and the Victorian plant hunters, was at the same time as botanical collections of species were being archived and recorded, so too were geographical maps of territories being created and sliced up for colonial empires; classifications of people according to colonial viewpoints and racist tracings as well as the often misguided drawing of territorial borders have led to endless tensions and discrimination. Having a mixed heritage myself, allows me to look for instance at the cultivation of the land, in forms which may appear innocuous, such as the Victorian garden, but clearly have a cultural imprint.
Flowers are also the biological sex organs of the plant and an expression of nature. Flowers are sensual and often fragrant. The flower is fragile, organic and opposed to what is mechanical and artificial. They are signifiers of everything from The Virgin Mary to femininity to death. Flowers bought and sold are even a symbol of the global capitalist garden, masking a superior narrative about globalisation and the blurring of national borders.
My observation of the flower is in many respects still life because I am capturing posed flesh. The iPhone with its microscopic ‘eye’ sends digital images via light sensors and the whole process from eye (artist) to eye (flower) to eye (iPhone lens) to eye (viewer) is a transference of light. Helen Chadwick referred to similar tools in her work as her ‘optical prostheses’. (Ed.Chalmers, G.1996.p13) which in some respects links the feminine aspect of the flowers to something quite scientific, almost medical. The probing lens that inserts itself into the flower centre is akin to invasive vaginal surgical instruments such as the speculum, an emotive appreciation for the botanical memory, the sexualised botanical charge and of course the creative essence of light, both in reproduction and photosynthesis. The flesh-like nature of the flower explores not only the associated metaphors of life and death and the cultural implications of the flower and even its ‘fruit’; but also connotations like the Garden of Eden, Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, femininity, floriography, funeral or wedding bouquets, romance, sin, nature, temptation, sexual difference and guilt.