Review: Cut Flowers Are Already Dead deserves a space that reflects its bold content — the Hatch isn’t it

“Natural beauty is essentially temporary and sad; hence the impression of obscene mockery that artificial flowers gives us.”

Printed in tiny font near the entrance, late American author John Updike’s words plunge us into the existential conundrum behind Cut Flowers Are Already Dead, the latest installation at the Hatch.

Created by fifth-year art history and visual arts student Mary Buckland, Cut Flowers Are Already Dead is a mixture of embroidery, copperplate etching and small-scale installations revolving around flowers.

The idea is to take something inherently temporary and immortalize it, encasing it in an artificial, permanent form. Buckland’s creative uses of form, colour and arrangement highlight the ethos of her work, even though Cut Flowers Are Already Dead’s curatorial shortcomings stifle its message.

Iyanu Owolabi

On the surface, Buckland’s work is almost austerely minimalist. From the entrance of the gallery, the exhibit looks like little more than a few fake flowers and small shreds of fabric mounted on plain, white walls.

A few steps deeper and Cut Flowers Are Already Dead suddenly has a lot going on. “Unsteady Hand” demonstrates Buckland’s control of copperplate etching to great effect. The tiny differences in shading, colour and texture push us to search for deviation in a skew of sketches of a single flower.

Iyanu Owolabi

“TOUCH ME” looks like a sheet stapled to a wall from afar; up close, Buckland’s minimal but masterful use of embroidery invites us to engage with her work with both our eyes and our hands.

Both pieces are unassuming from a distance, but up close, they pull us in, pushing us to consider the questions posed by the exhibit as a whole.

Buckland’s most impressive feat might be her use of medium and form.

“Pressed II” combines Buckland’s stark, clear sketches with the pressed shadows of petals and pine needles on a torn cloth, creating a rustic portrait whose canvas says as much as its content. The use of rugged, old cloth or sketches in pieces like “Pressed I,” “Pressed II” and “Mother’s Garden” gives her art a sense of character and intimacy — making complex compositions seem like beautiful accidents.

In the stark white interior of the Hatch, the works feel almost too homey compared to its typical exhibits. And that’s the biggest problem: Cut Flowers Are Already Dead is meant to evoke natural beauty via the artificial, but the space ends up stifling both. The splashes of deep, velvet red and textures of Buckland’s pieces feel lost in all of the white of the gallery.

Even the quote from Updike — essentially a guiding thesis for the exhibit — is printed in tiny font in a corner of the gallery, hardly visible. A lack of any guiding pamphlet or information certainly doesn’t help either.

Iyanu Owolabi

As the Hatch’s assistant director, Buckland should be aware of the space’s weaknesses as well as its strengths. The white walls are a great backdrop for big, bold photo exhibitions. But behind her intricate, intimate work, they look more sterile than complimentary. Buckland is asking some very good questions with her art, but the Hatch doesn’t guide us to any answers.

The exhibit is the ambitious work of an artist who raises questions as much as she provides answers — but the curation of the space fails to lead us towards any answers. Furthermore, the Hatch itself feels far too empty and clinical, making the exhibition feel tiny, even if its ideas are grand. Had the venue been better suited to Cut Flowers Are Already Dead, this exhibit would have been a standout feature for Buckland’s subtle, but impressive work.