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Graduate Research Seminar: Perverse Implantations: Surrealism’s Language of Flowers

David Lomas (University of Manchester)
When Jan 30, 2013
from 05:00 PM to 07:00 PM
Where History of Art Graduate Centre, 4a Trumpington Street
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This paper will explore the hypothesis that botany post-Linnaeus is a realm in which a notion of sexuality as polymorphous is elaborated that, I shall argue, percolates down to the twentieth century and into the visual culture of Surrealism and beyond. Kant, in the “Analytic of the Beautiful,” set aside the reproductive function of flowers in order to extol them as an instance of free beauty. For Surrealist and other more contemporary artists, by contrast, botany is a route to the de-sublimatory release of a polymorphous (or queer) sexuality. Botanical imagery occurs frequently in the work of the female Surrealist artists, hardly surprisingly given the gendered connotations of flower painting. For such artists, Kingdom of Flora offered a model for the overcoming of sexual dimorphism. My paper will consider the repercussions of Georges Bataille’s incendiary essay, “A Language of Flowers”; in particular, his observation that “there are plants so shady that one is tempted to attribute to them the most troubling human perversions.” Among more recent instances of a trend towards anti-formalist appropriations of botanical imagery, I shall look at Helen Chadwick’s “Piss Flowers” (1991-92) that are explicit in their invocation of Linnaeus as well as of an infantile polymorphous eroticism. My talk will conclude with the performance artist Lee Adams who has found a productive point of reference in Surrealism’s language of flowers that resonates with queer politics in a post-AIDS era. 

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