Whitworth Studies aims to encourage and support a wide range of research projects between the Whitworth and Art History and Visual Studies (AHVS), artists, other parts of the University of Manchester, and visiting researchers from other universities. This research activity will result in exhibitions, conferences, lecture series, events, performances, and research on the Whitworth’s collections.
Internationally recognised researchers, from the University of Manchester and beyond, will give public lectures and presentations of many kinds, as well as artists talking about their work.
Whitworth Studies will also encourage experimental encounters with research and experimental forms of presenting research as a signature aspect of its public programme.
The Whitworth Studies programme is designed to appeal to the highly engaged Whitworth public; students with interests in visual culture; researchers at all levels who want to stage or present research on visual culture; and the wider art community of Manchester and the North West.
Professor David Lomas: A Language of Flowers: Modern Artists and the Botanical Imaginary
Thursday 4 May, 5.30pm. Free, no need to book
Taking Georges Bataille’s essay The Language of Flowers’ as a point of departure, my talk will investigate relationships between modern and contemporary artists and botany. For Kant, the flower – explicitly leaving aside its reproductive function – was an instance of ideal beauty. Bataille, by contrast, hastens to point out: "even the most beautiful flowers are spoiled in their centres by hairy sexual organs." My project is basically a tale of pistils and stamens. It aims to elicit a non-formal strand of botanical appropriation among artists who have foregrounded questions of gender and sexuality. I argue that post-Linnaean botany is a realm in which an alternative – expanded, polymorphous – conception of the erotic is elaborated that could serve such artists as a resource from which to challenge normative assumptions about gender and sexual relations. The presentation will offer as a case study Helen Chadwick’s Piss Flowers (1993). These ghostly white bronze casts of the urine streams produced in snow by Chadwick and her male partner are at once strangely beautiful, and witnesses to the urethral eroticism that was instrumental to their creation. Inversion is a key formal trope in the production of objects that combine masculine and feminine in a startlingly accurate analogy to pistils and stamens, in a ‘perfect’ – that is, hermaphroditic – flower. Here, the botanical kingdom points the way to a queer ‘beyond’ of human sexual dimorphism.
David Lomas is Professor in the History of Art at the University of Manchester. He is the author of The Haunted Self: Surrealism, Psychoanalysis, Subjectivity (Yale University Press, 2000), and Simulating the Marvellous: Psychology, Surrealism, Postmodernism (University of Manchester Press, 2013).
Image: Helen Chadwick, Piss Flowers, 1993