EXHIBITED AT THE OKANAGAN INNOVATION CENTRE SUMMER 2018
The macro photography of fake flowers on increasingly warmer days.
“We are going to see water levels in our city… reach levels we’ve never seen before… I’d like to ask residents to do a few things… sandbag your property… remove valuables from your basement… and look after one another.” The words of Kelowna’s mayor on the city’s official YouTube channel, days after the first streets started to flood. Locally, the video went viral, the mayor’s clean-shaven face and calm yet concerned demeanour had shown everyone exactly what they wanted to see. A brutal summer followed that May 10th announcement in the place I live and work — as an eco artist I was profoundly affected — as a resident, I was in shock. It started with a false spring, snow melting too early yet again, melting so quickly it couldn’t be absorbed into the earth. No absorption meant no new ground water, our fruitful valley had become a heap of dry inhospitable soil, a temporary ecological dead zone developed that summer, with a lake overflowing an entire winter’s snowmelt. By the time the floods were under control, wildfires had started; hip-waders were no longer a requirement for walking through the streets, half-face respirator masks became the summer’s latest trend. Our false spring became a dead summer and when Scientific American reported that “the quickening pace of climate change means that spring could be up to 13 days earlier by mid-century and 21 days earlier by 2100”, we were starting to look at a season very different from the romanticized “Okanagan summer” most of us had taken for granted.
False Spring/Dead Summer is a large-scale macro photographic series of fake plastic plants. Shot in the style of the timeless flowers-beginning-to-bloom known well to calendar collectors from coast to coast, this series celebrates the coming of an increasingly early spring with the only plants that will survive it. Each of these 12 photos is named for a month of the year. Inspired by the works of famous calendar photographers, such as Tony Howell, who focus on the minute beauty of blossoming new flora to bring out the “ephemeral beauty, colour and spirit of flowers”, I have taken a similar approach, but with a fundamentally different subject matter. Because of this inspiration, False Spring/Dead Summer has also been made into a limited edition calendar to accompany this series. Using only fake flowers selected from the discarded piles of used bouquets and past trends found in thrift stores and garbage cans everywhere, I’ve assembled arrangements mimicking each’s analogue in nature. What at first appear to be beauty shots of flowers mid-bloom, upon closer inspection, reveal rows of thread where the fractal pattern of cells should be, clumped grey dust where pollen should sit, and the distinct lines leftover from mass plastic manufacturing running down green and brown collared stems. What appears to be a cornucopia of the season’s fresh growth is in fact no more than false flowers in a false spring.
Climate Central’s Elizabeth Grossman has explained that “”false spring,” is becoming increasingly common as climate changes. Its effects are also prompting increasing concern. For when warm temperatures awaken dormant plants and animals prematurely, they can throw the timing of seasonal events crucial to an entire ecological food web off kilter. The results can cause devastating harm to both wild and cultivated species.” The biggest problem I see is that the people around me tend to celebrate spring coming early after a cold Canadian winter. However, not seeing the impending ecological dead zones developing beneath our feet, I believe they should be very weary of it instead. In this piece, I’ve used the superficialness of bright fake flowers made of plastic to comment on this premature enthusiasm. Plastic, as an oil-based mass-consumed product, is of course also one of the quintessential markers and causes of climate change. And like our false spring, false flowers also tend to be celebrated when they really should be warning signs of the environmental impact they have. At first glance of these photos, I invite you to see beauty; look closer and I hope you see the warning as clear as a mayor asking you to care for one another from behind his webcam.
Special thanks to Emily MacMillen for making the gallery installation and documentation possible. Check out her own incredible body of work at http://www.EmilyMacMillen.com