Taryn Simon uses photography, design, and narrative to decrypt culturally specific systems, patterns, and codes of secrecy and desire. These pursuits, methodically researched and meticulously annotated, expose taxonomies as invented rather than given. In 2007, Simon compiled an inventory of what lies hidden and out-of-view within the borders of the United States. Confronting the divide between those with and without the privilege of access, Simon’s far-ranging collection reflects and reveals that which is integral to America’s foundation, mythology, and daily functioning. In 2010, for example, her systematic documentation of 1,075 items seized over five days by US Customs officials at JFK Airport in New York betrayed globalization’s limits at the border where nations seek to control the free flow of goods. By cataloguing these objects—from contraband to popular cultural artifacts—Simon lays bare an inventory of our wants, longings, and obsessions.
For the Biennale di Venezia, Simon has created twelve concrete presses she calls Paperwork, and the Will of Capital. The pages in these presses resurrect historical agreements, contracts, treaties, and decrees drafted to influence systems of governance and economics. In archival photographs of the signings of these documents, powerful men consistently flank floral arrangements curated to convey the significance of each event. Simon’s photographs isolate the floral arrangements to mark their role as silent observers of man’s determination to control the fates of nations, institutions, and the natural world. By pairing the flowers with content from the individual accords, Simon’s work examines the stagecraft of power: how it is created, performed, marketed, and maintained.
During the exhibition, each of Simon’s presses will be open to two pages. On the left is Simon’s photographic re-creation of the flower arrangement that was present at a historically significant signing, along with a text grounding the image in the details of the meeting.
The flowers in Simon’s arrangements are sourced from the world’s largest flower auction, in Aalsmeer, The Netherlands, where flowers from global markets are sold to flower shops worldwide. Over 4,000 plant specimens from Aalsmeer were imported to Simon’s studio, where she reconstructed the bouquets and photographed them in settings based on archives of the original ceremonies.
After each bouquet was photographed, the specimens were dried, pressed, and sewn to archival herbarium paper, and then placed on the right-hand pages of the presses. These “impossible bouquets”—which, in the spirit of Dutch still life painting, gather flowers that could not have bloomed simultaneously before the advent of new technologies— tie together Simon’s disparate social, political, economic, and poetic narratives. In this beautifully subtle and intricate gesture, Simon retraces the means by which nature is pressed into the service of the human ego.