In conjunction with the 2015 SPRING/BREAK Art Show, The Varsity presents The Dead People’s Dead Flowers, a new installation by Danish artist Anne Nowak, curated by Cassandra M Johnson.
In Nowak’s haunting installation, the artist has adopted a radical approach to artistic production. By collecting source materials from the garbage, discarded dead flowers from graveyards, over the course of a year and transforming them into works of art, the installation operates within the public sphere, creating work from materials not necessarily associated with art, but with everyday life. Comprised of over 150 cyanoprints, which hang from the ceiling on invisible lines, the work reacts organically to changes in the air and the movement of people throughout the space. This subtle billowing effect literally and figuratively breathes new life into what has passed on, casting both abstract and concrete light on the condition of absence. Insofar as the process of sourcing these materials infiltrates alternative systems of exchange (dumpster diving, freeganism, etc.), the project raises questions of ownership and the life cycle of material objects, including works of art, and their value as both commodity and private property.
The moment Nowak removes the discarded flowers from the garbage, they are transformed from dead, withered objects and given new life in the eyes of the artist. This body of work challenges the power of truism in the valuation of objects. What value does an object have when it is no longer able to serve its initial purpose? In the valuation of art, exchange value is tied above all to aesthetic judgment, in parallel, these forsaken flowers are no longer deemed valuable once their aesthetic qualities have faded and their perceived purpose is achieved.
The flowers themselves, exhibited alongside the prints, appear at first glance to be a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Though they are altered, cut and precisely arranged, the natural form of the flowers remains a common, every day thing. Valued by their intended use, there is nothing mysterious about them, but when considered in terms of their capacity to be transformed through an alternate perspective, they abound in metaphysical subtleties and theological nuances. At the hand of the artist, they transcend their commercial purpose and challenge the viewer to resign any preconceived value judgments.
The Dead People’s Dead Flowers imparts the possibility of a new relation to things, one which goes beyond the enjoyment of their use value and the accumulation of their exchange value. Here the artist becomes the redeemer of the abandoned object, the one who absolves, with her elegant treatment of these trashed flowers, their original sin: the commodity. The prints themselves become not only a testament to this new way of interpreting value, but an homage to the dead, an offering and tribute to the lost souls, the stars, and the unknown.
The Varsity is a Brooklyn-based independent curatorial firm. Founded on the idea that conversations spark innovation, we produce exhibitions and events which bring together the ever growing community of creative thinkers we encounter. Our curatorial initiatives challenge and advance existing paradigms of exhibition making and forge relationships among artists, critics, exhibition spaces, and audiences, seeking to create a more connected artistic community.
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