In the Studio Book Review: Not A Rose by Heide Hatry

Brachia sepiae

Brachia sepiae

Heide Hatry’s Not A Rose is a 4-year project that involved the artist’s making of 80 photographs of animal tongues, ears, intestines, penises, and internal organs shaped into flowers. The artist and some of her friends offer many reasons why she has turned animal parts that are usually discarded into pseudo-flowers, starting with autobiographical memories of the smells in her grandmother’s flower shop and her years of cutting up dead pigs on her family’s pig farm near Heidelberg.  Hatry shaped the offal into art using a series of framing devices: the selection and manipulation of parts, a range of nature settings, the photograph (creating distance from the smell and feel of the real organs), and the photo title (obscured) in Latin. To top off these four “frames,” essays by 101 scholars, writers, and artists with notable platforms and publishing credentials variously address a range of topics from real flowers and their places in our worlds to candid discussions about using offal to make art.

Spisulae solidissimae insectae

Spisulae solidissimae insectae

The book’s publication has received extensive media coverage, including a series of events featuring Hatry and her  colleagues at the College Art Association, the American Booksellers Association, MoMA PS1, the KGB Bar, and New York City’s leading bookstores. Hatry’s work, too, became the cover story for the June issue of the Brooklyn Rail, a large format, meaty & respected arts publication. Heide Hatry’s media blitz is ongoing and demonstrates that networking has its own rewards. Her pr materials summarize the book’s aim:

Her images and the writings of 101 prominent intellectuals, writers, scholars and artists together channel Richard Wagner’s pursuit of the “Gesamtkunstwerk“, an interdisciplinary “total artwork” that offers a dynamic, holistic expression of its subject that is not constrained by the division between contemporary artistic genres. Contributing writers include Jonathan Ames, Jonathan Safran Foer, Mary Caponegro, Jessica Hagedorn, Donna Haraway, Siri Hustvedt, Lucy Lippard, Robert Kelly, Fiona Maazel, JW McCormack, Kate Millett, Rick Moody, Steven Pinker, Avital Ronell, Stanley Rosen, Peter Singer, Klaus Theweleit, Franz Wright, and Luisa Valenzuela.

Uterus ovus

Uterus ovus

Space does not permit a comprehensive overview of Hatry’s art and the texts of the book’s 101 contributors; it is fair to say that the book contains something for everyone. Unlike the range of vulgar, openly erotic and explicit genital art that is flooding Manhattan galleries this summer, Hatry’s photographs, which also have their own exhibition at the Stux Gallery, seem, in contrast, demure yet not “innocent.” This is both the strength and limitation of the images. The Forcipes magnae cancrorum is a close-up of a pretend Bird of Paradise in a place with tall grasses and water. Many petal clusters made of everything from tongues to ears to body parts look vibrant in their green settings. The Brachia sepiae looks squidlike on a slender stalk against a black background; the bloom’s enigmatic center and drooping “petals” strike me as notable in composition, leaving out greenery and other “sweeter” surroundings. Vagina vaccae, penis arietis is the most explicit image linking human, animal, and plant sexuality. My gut feeling is that Hatry could have taken more aesthetic risks in her “not a rose” portraits, yet they show individualism: some are coy and sensuous while others are a bit slimy and squirmy.

I have many favorite essays and poems among the 101 authors in this book. “The Offal Flowers of Heide Hatry” by poet Robert Kelly is brilliant and to the point, opening:

We are told that flowers are the sex organs of the plant.

Not just the Goethes and Rudolf Steiners of the world tell us this, actual scientists do, and science teachers, like Alexander B. Klotz who gave me a D in second semester Botany probably because I spent too much time with te girls in the class, sitting beside them at the bench, helping them fine-focus their microscopes, adjust their slides, specimens, reagents. Sitting thigh to thigh with them, whispering of this and that, mostly the mysteries of the vascular plants, shy as I was.

Forcipes magnae cancororum

Forcipes magnae cancororum

Kelly’s essay goes on to discuss the allure of both flowers and offal, praising sweetbreads  — “the thymus and sometimes pancreas of the calf – my favorite restaurant food,” as well as tripe, oxtail stew, pig ears (p. 58). He concludes, “I think Offal is the Queen, though. She is the animal inside the animal, the soul-meat that keeps all that dumb musclework and bone alive. Liver and lights, heart and kidney, they make the animal go” (p. 59). Kelly concludes, “The heart too is offal. And humans, I think, are the sexual organs of the planet” (p. 59). This text is delightful in the ways that it connects puberty, sexuality, flowers, offal, and the planet and, with a light touch, brings together some themes in this book.

Feminist critic Lucy R. Lippard’s “Another Flower World” opens:

“Nature is never as natural (or unnatural?) as when an artist gets hold of it and redefines what nature is, reminding us that humans are inseparable from all the rest of it, and that art is not necessarily the opposite of nature” (p. 10).

Vagina vaccae, penis arietis

Vagina vaccae, penis arietis

This short essay closes by zeroing in on the irony of Hatry’s flowers: “…these flowers transcend both their own apparent identity and that of the creatures from whose remains they are forged. They are an homage to life even as they evoke death” (p. 10).

I could go on and on. Mei Mei Burssenbrugge’s “Hello, the Roses,” a sensual, introspective, penetrating poem, appears here and is also the title poem of her latest book (which I am reviewing elsewhere). I love Jessica Haggedorn’s paragraph epiphany on the night-blooming “Saguaro Blossom.”  Not a Rose has many tales to tell.

By Jan Garden Castro

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