The series Emissaries is composed of 16 individual works. The images are contact printed in the darkroom as silver gelatine prints with an individual work title presented in capital letters underneath. Each piece covers a different coded message and consists of an unique arrangement made out of one to various photographs picturing flowers.
Flowers have the power of attraction: their scent allures, their beauty attracts. Flowers are given to loved ones in times of crisis, romance or to convey affection. They build meaning through their own language called floriography which has been used over hundreds of years as a means of communication. In the early 1800 the first book of floriography was published in France by Joseph Hammer-Purgstall, only to discover that different cultures had different meanings tied to each flower, showing that meaning was constructed and developed through cultural knowledge. The meaning of the flower often comes from the characteristics, behaviour, shape and/or colour. After the Hammer-Purgstall publication, the meanings started to unify and messages could now travel over borders within the western world.
The interest in floriography blossomed in the Victorian Era (1819-1901): gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send encrypted messages to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken aloud in the Victorian society. Armed with floral dictionaries, Victorians often exchanged small talking bouquets that served as an emotional proxy in the time where feelings and emotions were culturally suppressed: forbidden love, hatred, ambivalence. A hidden message. In this context flowers took on a further political significance, contradicting the social conventions of the time. The flower and its aesthetics explicitly raise questions about the way meaning is being constructed through an alternative method of communication. In search of a language that overcomes borders, I found the long lost language of flowers, an underestimated but still political language in the modern world.
In my pieces, each flower arrangement is subject to an inner logic, it visualizes the flowers meaning as an associative figure. The smallest unit in each piece is the photograph of a flower shown in a typical frame of a 4 x 5 inch negative. One might think that the flowers are part of an old collected archive, where in reality all images were found through google searches, screen grabbed and photoshopped into the negative frame. These images and their formation turn into symbolic signs with extended value. The fake archive offers the possibility to understand the old pattern in order to understand the new and decode the given message.
Montage: If you can understand the pattern you can predict the future, until the pattern changes. In this case you can go back and study the pattern in order to then predict the future. The privilege of the archive → key of the future.
Joachim Bøgedal is a Danish/Swedish artist. He holds a BFA in Fine Art Photography from Akademin Valand, Gothenburg, Sweden, and holds a diploma in art and photography from Akademie der Bildende Kunste Wien, where he studied under Proff. Martin Guttman. Joachim’s artistic focus lies mainly in photography and its boundaries, analogue processes, manipulation and the storytelling properties of photography. Joachim is currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Yuliya : In your project, you construct messages with the help of floriography, a cryptological system that uses flowers. Each of these images is a message, a reaction to what is happening in the world.
Joachim : Absolutely, it becomes very much a statement. Every time they are installed, it would be in different formations, and they will change depending on how I see connections with possible political subjects. So they carry a message in them. Of course, it’s a very subjective opinion, because I cannot really get further than my subjectivity.
Yuliya : Is it some kind of an artistic statement on the political issues? What is politically engaged art for you?
Joachim : I think the question of what political engaged work is is both easy and really hard to go into. You can say everything is political, and I have started to believe that. But I think there are many different ways to approach the political subject within art. One that I find interesting is the aesthetical way, by alluring people in.
But there is a very subtle line between art works that point at people’s noses and the ones that are very informative, which are very important. So there is this question of how you catch and keep people’s attention.
To me, it could be something aesthetical, but then having a subject or a stance is a way to do it. Because I think beauty really allures people.
George : You are reminding me just now, about a theory Tim Hetherington had, the Trojan horse theory, where he would frame stories as if they were about something they were not. For instance, he did a story about this football team, former Libyan soldiers that all had been injured during the war and formed a football team, and on the surface this story seems to be about football. So, by meaning, it would be more likely to be published and people would be more likely to read it and to engage with it. And then they would realize that it’s about war and the effect war has on the communities in Africa. He did believe that you could use things to slip the message in the back door. What you are saying about using aesthetics is one of these things, or humour – it is something you can use to entice people in, before suddenly hitting them with a message, one that is really political and quite sinister.
Yuliya : While talking about the political aspect of an archive, you said that it can be resumed, as “if you can predict the pattern, you can predict the future”.
Joachim : I think an archive is not the pattern itself, it is history that is the pattern. There is an old saying that history repeats itself. So it’s history that you need to understand more than the archive itself. The archive is the key to understanding the pattern, and therefore understanding the history and predicting the future.
Yuliya : What meaning do you aim to create by assembling your works in an installation?
Joachim : It’s much more about the feeling that I’m trying to create in the viewer in front of it. I do not struggle to get the audience to understand every single connection between images and words, but focus on what they can take from it. Everyone should be allowed to make their own interpretation of it.
I think this is the most political aspect of your work. You use the words that could be read in many ways, so they could suggest what you had in your mind when you chose them, but they can be associated with other things, too, and create all kinds of stories. This is the interesting part, where you just leave a lot of space to the viewer to put things together.
Joachim : An example of an artist that uses words very poetically, so that they create big spaces in people’s minds, or at least in my mind, is Lawrence Wiener. I’m thinking about the words he wrote on a bunker from the Second World War in Vienna: “Smashed to pieces (in the still of night)”. It is a sentence that doesn’t tell you exactly how to think and that creates plenty of space for thoughts. I’m sure he had a very clear idea, but there is so much room left to interpret this work, because he is not telling you what to think, and this is really, really important.
Yuliya : In terms of archive, what is the biggest privilege, then: being able to create it as you describe or being able to decrypt it?
Joachim : You can make it very political, if you believe that if you understand the past, you can predict the future. And then, talking about the privileged archive – it means that only certain people have access to knowledge, and thereby understand the future, react to the future. And being able to react is a very powerful thing.
George : In terms of the future-oriented archive, I was thinking about your words on the privilege of the archive and who controls it, and that the one who has access to the archive has access to the future. The fact that all your images in this project come from Google Images, makes it, in principle, a kind of a democratic and accessible knowledge system that is future-oriented in the sense that it’s a sort of the knowledge archive of the times that we live in.
Joachim : I believe that knowledge is the power today, I like the idea that Google is a democratic archive. It’s a nice way of putting it.
Søren : I also feel that your work is between asterism and language – I appreciate the way your works are very much connected to language as knowledge, and language as the knowledge structure and power. You said that the aesthetic part of visual art would be able to entice people to go look at it and catch their interest in it.
However, you took flowers and stripped them from the most aesthetic thing, their colour. So now they are only forms, put into grids with words. In that way, your work also really emphasizes the underlying structure of meaning, and that would always be an underlying current of every aesthetic experience that you have.
Joachim : It’s something that I have been thinking about ever since I started making this project – the fact that the images are black and white. In the beginning, it was a question of technique, but trying to back up my reason, I found some research that studied what the most alluring part of a flower is. It was stated through quantitative research that it is the shape of it.
Margherita : Also, it’s easier to save the form of a flower than the colour.
Joachim : Think also about the Roman sculptures that used to be painted, but are now completely white. Only the shape is left.
Søren : I think there is something interesting in the breakage between the colour and the fact-driven idea of the language. Walter Benjamin talks about colours as the colours of imagination, he imagines that the source of an image comes from the spectrum of colours. That’s a very different way of understanding the world than, for example, more structured knowledge.
Yuliya : Also colours are more subjective, because we all see colours differently. It seems like the shape has a more objective value.
Søren : Yes, I think that’s right, you could say colours are closer to subjectivity than shapes are.
Yuliya : Speaking about the shape – each of your photographs is an installation itself, as images are arranged in some specific manner. What’s the role of those forms that you create with the pictures of the flowers, how do you create them?
Joachim : The compositions in each of them are very inspired by the words themselves. Let’s take an example: “Indifference”. Here, the images of flowers are spread out all over the composition of the image, and one of them is overlapping, while the other ones are designed very, very tight. For “truth”, there is just one truth, depending on who you talk to, so there is only one image in the centre.
Søren : It’s also a way to give power to the images by this physical way of working with them, really engaging with them. Taking something from Google, which is just a sea of images, choosing images and making them into something physical. There is also this whole perseverance part of it, and in a very personal way the images almost become Joachim’s. They are not really a part of the big sea of images anymore, but a part of his personal visual archive.