Books

The Melancholy Art of Japanese Floral Arrangements

flora art4
Minh Häusler, “Rosa canina ‘Corallo’ — Flexi grass” (all photos courtesy the artist and Hirmer Verlag)

Ikebana, which translates to “living flowers,” is the Japanese art of floral arrangement that dates back to the 16th century. Nowadays, placing flowers and plants in a vessel isn’t generally regarded as much an art form so much as a paid service, but the creations of those who practice contemporary ikebana have an elegance and rhythm to their carefully worked structures that resemble living sculpture. Zürich-based artist Minh Häusler, who spent years in Asia learning the art of ikebana, has developed her own style of creatively manipulated nature, approaching the centuries-old tradition with a contemporary eye. She also photographs her constructions, thereby memorializing the living structures for eternity. Over 200 of her colorful images are now featured in The Fusion of Flora and Art, a book published in June by German publishing house Hirmer Verlag.

The wealth of images alone speaks to Häusler’s devotion to sculpting flora, but upon reading her introduction to the book it’s even more evident that her relationship to the organic material stems from a deep kinship with nature and a fervent respect for her environment. The material with which she works is always changing and ephemeral, and Häusler, as she puts it, has a “determination to perpetuate the eye-catching effect of Flora into something long lasting.”

flora art3
Minh Häusler, “Papaver nudicaule — copper wire” (click to enlarge)

The resulting photographs are simple, studio-like portraits of these subjects, but they do offer a sense of wonder. Rather than works one might brush off as simply decorative objects, each arrangement is invigorated with life, occupying the blank space rather than merely existing in it.

Branches curve gracefully even while supporting vivid blossoms, extending as if they might keep growing if they weren’t frozen and framed. Stems wriggle their way to the sky. Flowers kiss or bow to one another. Even the man-made ceramics remain in harmonious dialogue with the life they support.

Many of the containers Häusler uses are simple, but she chooses shapes that emphasize the configuration of her flora. And although some vessels are exquisite, rarely do they overshadow the organisms that emerge from them. Some of her more sculptural works even feature makeshift vases assembled from wires, iron sheets, or papier–mâché. All these sitters are photographed against a black or white background, highlighting the vivid coloring and various textures of the flora while lending each image an overall sense of calm and grace.

Though they may look it, not all the plants Häusler works with are exotic. She often uses her own garden as a source for her arrangements, which makes the images especially arresting: common poppies look like creatures exploring the space with curiosity; rose petals, when attached to clothes hangers, resemble Alexander Calder mobiles. The book also includes a handy index that identifies each species — realizing what some flowers actually are can be quite surprising.

While beautiful, especially in their ability to have us view the quotidian in a wholly new light, Häusler’s ikebana photos are also melancholic. As she reminds in her writings, she is working with each arrangement in its moment of full vitality. Her photographs illustrate only that moment, and framing them individually is her way of honoring each one. The actual plants and flowers remain vulnerable to time and eventually will wither.

flora art 8
Minh Häusler, “Geranium — apple branches” (left); “Ginger — wood” (right)
flora art 1
Minh Häusler, “Swan Lake: Papaver orientale”
flora art2
Minh Häusler, “Flexi grass — Celosia cristata”
flora art5
Minh Häusler, “Gloriosa superba — apple branches”
flora art6
Minh Häusler, “Abandoned honeycomb with Belamcanda chinensis seeds”

Minh Häusler: The Fusion of Flora and Art is published by Hirmer Verlag and is available from the University of Chicago Press, Amazon, and other online booksellers.

comments (0)