In every one of the Greek mythology tales there is a secret key to unlock our collective subconscious. While Christianity shaped the early European beliefs and religious order, ancient Greeks influenced the arts, literature and imagination of our world if not its beliefs. One could argue that we would have been more fortunate inheriting the Greek polytheistic religion rather than undergoing two thousand years of Jesus martyrdom but the civilisation’s evolution took a different direction. What’s fascinating about the ancient mythology is that the many tales contain some earlier beliefs that were passed through as beautiful even if cruel at its origins myths.
The stories of Narcissus, Hyacinth or Adonis tells us about young beautiful men whose death transforms them into respective flowers. However, the genesis of these myths originates in the human sacrifice ritual performed by first human civilisations as a way of appeasing the gods. By spilling the blood of the most attractive young men and women of the tribe our ancestors believed their deities would grant them another year of good harvest. The blood of the youngsters used as a fertiliser and a tool of alchemical transformation. The actual story seemed too cruel to the ancient Greeks who chose to turn those tales into allegories instead.
The ancient myths of men symbolising the sacrifice and revealing the darker hidden side of our world bring into the picture Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du mal” (published in 1857) translated into English as “The Flowers of Evil”. Famous for its decadent and erotic tone reflecting the style of European Romanticism this collection of poetry also unfolds some truths about the French society that were swept under the carpet by the general public, aspects of life judged dangerous and indecent that instantly brought prosecution to the author and the publisher. The second edition excluded all the banned poems and only in 1949 the ban was lifted. The visions of “The Flowers of Evil” blend the pleasure-seeking, indulgent life with the imaginary of the social outcasts, characters who don’t conform with the rising bourgeois society but live through the thrills of the forbidden, on the edge, in the shadows. Those visions kept on haunting me and I kept on seeking a visual representation knowing that the series would be called “The Men of Flowers”.
The project materialized itself in December 2015 once I met the members of the performance group Non Grata. First I saw their show during Miami Art Basel evoking the neo-nazi elements of the US presidential campaign with clear references to the Trump populist messaging. They performanced in a large enclosed area that was quickly filled with toxic fumes as part of the narrative, I lasted for only a few minutes but the impression of the dramatically delivered warning stayed and I was curious to get to know them outside their insane shows. That happened only two weeks later, in Greenpoint where Non Grata stayed hosted by Jill McDermid and Erik Hokanson from Grace Exhibition Space. I came to visit and was greeted by Al who started Non Grata in 1998 and who in his gentlemanlike Eastern European manner asked me what kind of drink I would fancy and then prepared something quite elaborate, and strong. The conversation followed, Al projecting intensely philosophical attitude towards his artistic practice disagreeing with me on nearly every matter to keep the conversation going. Meanwhile the other members of Non Grata gathered around the table initiating a branding ritual during which each of the young man would burn a small mark on his forearm. In that moment I knew there were “MY” men of flowers
Like in the Greek mythology the most beautiful men of the tribe sacrificed for the rest of the humanity to thrive in abundance, Non Grata members seemed to embody some sacrificial space in which the radiance of their youth served as a flame of conscience, in an attempt to alchemically reverse the trajectory of the history, and to reinstate the hopes of yet another lost generation. Some say best is to choose a goal that is impossible to attain, some say our civilisation advanced its insanity so much it lost the ability of self-reflection, perpetuating anti-human structures and ideologies. Flowers of evil raise on the ashes, dreamers and outcasts screaming truth to the blind and deaf power, fallen angels sustaining its glory on cheap booze, traveling from town to town, country to country, unwanted and aware of it, showing a finger to the world, screaming against the corporate, political corruption that spins on every corner of this world demanding more sacrifice, desiring entire generations as a fuel for its demonic greed.
Vaguely explaining the concept I asked Non Grata to pose for me. I wanted their natural energy to come through. I brought with me flowers as props and used the garden as the backdrop. I was curious of the outcome, wondering if the romanticised vision of men soften by the presence of flowers like in a pre-Raphaelite paintings will convey any of the mythical brutality of the Greeks. But there was nothing soft in the way their bodies communicated, their natural expressions conveying anger, and some distance, fleeting impression of absence, all of it stating that the modern Men of Flowers wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t let the majority to dictate their fate, and even if they were to be doomed, their death could be only symbolic since they were already granted a place amongst the heros or eternal rebirth – the rebellious youth.