[February 24 2016]
These flowers sat between powerful men as they signed agreements designed to influence the fate of the world. —Taryn Simon
For her new work shown at the Gagosian Gallery, Taryn Simon‘s investigations yielded twin points of departure: George Sinclair‘s nineteenth century horticultural study (a book containing actual dried grass specimens), which influenced Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution; and archival photographs in which flowers feature as silent witnesses in the stagecraft of political and economic power.
In Paperwork and the Will of Capital, Simon examines accords, treaties, and decrees drafted to influence systems of governance and economics, from nuclear armament to oil deals and diamond trading. All involve the countries present at the 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, which addressed the globalization of economics after World War II, leading to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In images of the signings of these documents, powerful men flank floral arrangements designed to underscore the importance of the parties present. Each of Simon’s recreations of these floral arrangements represents an “impossible bouquet”—a concept that emerged in Dutch still-life painting parallel to the country’s seventeenth-century economic boom, which ushered in the development of modern capitalism. The impossible bouquet, a collection of flowers that could never bloom naturally in the same season and geographic location, is an artificial fantasy made real in Simon’s photographs, thanks to the globalization of the modern flower industry.
For the recreated arrangements, Simon imported more than 4000 flower and plant specimens from the world’s largest flower auction in Aalsmeer, Netherlands, where 20 million flowers arrive and depart daily, bound for international retail destinations. Working with a botanist and from archival records, she identified all the flowers and remade the floral arrangements from each signing, then photographed them against striking bicolored fields relating to the foregrounds and backgrounds in the historical images, pairing each arrangement with a description of the pertinent accord.
Read more about Taryn Simon‘s “Paperwork and the Will of Capital” exhibition here.
Text Gagosian Gallery and photo Pola Esther