At Southern Connecticut State University, this semester, my portfolio development exhibit will include a participatory installation. During the semester I have been making macro images of botanical and natural subjects: orchids, iris, ferns, trees, leaves, etc, pushing towards very high key, very abstract or both.
Our professor, Jeremey Chandler, encouraged me to consider printing large and I am so very glad that I followed his advice. His teaching style really inspires me to move forward and find the right way. I did not want to make the botanical images large just for the sake of making large images even though this was something I always wanted to do. So I searched for a compelling reason and came up with something that seems fun and exciting.
I decided to explore the montage techniques which Jeremy discussed in class and constructed an imagined “natural floral “arrangement in very wide panoramic format from individual photographic elements. I intentionally left a noticeable amount of white space in this digital montage and realized that the negative space was very similar to how I had designed with real flowers when I had Buds & Blossoms Floral Design Studio in Westville twenty years ago.
What if I proposed encouraging fellow students to draw over the large printed images with pastels, pencils, etc.? The extra white space would readily permit this. Professor Chandler suggested looking at the writing of French art critic, Nicolas Bourriaud, whose theory on “relational aesthetics” proposes that “the artwork creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity.” Jeremy also suggested presenting this idea during a class critique. Our discussion unearthed questions about the “value of the finished art piece.” Hopefully, the true value will become participation. Some folks like to draw particularly those that frequent the art building at a university!
Printing an 84 x 44 inch pano was a tad challenging but it was a thrill to use the new Epson P9000 series in our lab. It was easier than I expected even though the file was gigantic. We hung it using clips and it was thrilling to see the large piece on the wall. I went to Hulls Art Supply in New Haven several time to select pastels and pencils which paralleled the color palette. Moab Entrada Rag Bright is a beautiful matte paper made from 100% cotton. The soft texture lends itself nicely to fine art printing and was a perfect surface for the pastels.
Almost immediately the reactions of our art community were thrilling. One person shared his love of flowers and immediately identified the various species. We talked about the recent Roberto Burle Marx exhibit at the NYBG, Mapplethorpe’s perfect botanical images, Compo Farms, White Plains Orchids, studying floral design and local botanical artist, Ellen Hoverkamp. Another person read my artist statement and seemed quite moved.
Mary, from our class, had already made the first mark which was so subtle that I never noticed it on my fave flower, the large green orchid – Paphiopedilum Hsinying Citron. After viewing the pano at 100% for touch up at least 10 times before printing thought I knew the piece well. Another student, Kenny, is President of the SCSU photo club and I asked him if he would allow me to document his effort. It was fun to photograph Kenny adding to the montage.
Very quickly, a few more folks contributed and the montage took on an entire new life. Peggy made a lady bug and encouraged her design students to also draw on the pano. Subtle and strong shadings were added in the perimeter. Insects, more flowers, leaves and signatures were added.
By the following week, the Photo Club left their marks and making this a collaborative work of art. Amazing and thrilling to me, knowing the original piece so weIl, is the joy of discovering how so many artists made their own choices. Someone drew a beautiful large purple flower next to the “green paph.” It looks like the flowers are walking together!
Bees, spiders, rainbows and more appeared from imagination and the pano is becoming a collaborative vision of nature. Folks seem to be having fun. This has far surpassed anything I could have envisioned and I am humbled and happy.
I showed the Pano to my husband Steve, who is the kindest and most supportive person in the world. He succinctly sums it up: “ you are totally immersed in the world of flowers”.
My wide angle photograph does not do the work in progress justice…and it’s fun to see it up close…so please stop by to see our exhibit, Natural Spaces.