Lilies of the Field, 2019
Between the late 19th and early 20th century, albums of pressed flowers were among the most popular souvenirs on offer for tourists and pilgrims visiting the Holy Land from countries in Europe and North America. Typically comprising of dried petals and additional plants placed in flower-shaped arrangements, the albums noted the places where specimens had been collected and preserved in resin: “Jerusalem,” “Jericho,” “Tiberias,” and more. Corresponding to the cities and biblical sites already familiar to the Western tourist, such categorizations were informed by a distinctly romantic and religious view of the area.
Based on an extended research of pressed-flower albums in the archive of the American Colony in Jerusalem, Guez’s latest series examines the link between nature and culture, copy and origin. As with some of his previous projects focused on local landscape and vegetation, it tackles the ways in which a landscape, explicitly or implicitly, is subjugated to Orientalist precepts and made to conform to a Western eye, style and taste. As later examination has shown, plants in the albums do not necessarily correspond to the locations cited bellow, and are sometimes cultured species unrelated to their purported local botanical landscape. In addition, botanical denominations are frequently replaced by literary ones – as with the anemone, which the albums identify as the ‘Lillie of the field,’ known from the Bible.
An examination of the color hues in the flower arrangements shows variations in both the durability and frequency of certain pigments. Anthocyanin for example, a pigment present in hues of red, purple, and blue, occurs more frequently, and shows greater durability over time, while carotenoid, a pigment responsible for yellow and orange, had all but faded, disintegrating and transferring to the protective sheet of wax paper. Tracing the remnants of this yellow pigment, Guez photographed the front side of each flower arrangement, then of the backside of its overlaying sheet which, over a period of some 100 years, had absorbed most of carotenoid pigment. Neatly aligning both images – that of the flowers, ostensibly the series’ subject matter, with that of the pigmented protective layer – he re-conceptualizes the image with respect to the time dimension.
The process resulted in two photographic series, both in negative. The first, based on the flowers themselves, simulates a photogram of the flowers on a scale of 1:1, while the second, by converting the yellow to its complementary shade on the color spectrum, simulates large-scale cyanotypes. In the latter, blank areas indicate the anthocyanin-pigmented flowers of the original arrangement, which appear to fade under the residue of yellow pigment. With attention given predominantly to the pigment shed by the flowers rather than to the flowers themselves, Guez undermines the hierarchy between what is perceived as authentic, as opposed to fabricated.
Lilies of the Field, Exhibition view, Dvir Gallery, Brussels