a note on the use of flowers (a little trick!)

by Lauren Bakst

written on the occasion of The Gay Divorcees, 2021

What use are flowers? I have been thinking a lot about what flowers are for. I have been feeling, most of the time, more like a flower than a pot. I have been wondering what use I can possibly have.

-Steffani Jemmison[1]

The first time I read that, I’m a few months into quarantine and I’ve already begun taking almost daily photos of flowers. First step was to buy the flowers — make sure there are always flowers in the house. Then when you notice the flowers starting to change, take their picture. You can notice that they are changing all the time, so you could really spend a full life photographing flowers and their infinite changes — not just how they change but also how you change, like when you get up close to them or move far away; when you spread your fingers apart on the screen to move further inside. I don’t know anything about flowers or how they’re made — like what makes them up. If you could get inside a flower, what would be there? But when I spread the fingers on the screen of the phone and get as close as I can I lose the shape and the colors fade and then I’m just in the space of the flower which is now the space of color — but I’m also still outside it, too.

There was this one picture of flowers I had taken that I wanted to find. I think it was the first intentional picture of flowers I had taken. I forgot about it but then when I started taking pictures of flowers again I was reminded of it and wanted to find it. I was in that part of New York City where they plant tulips in the middle of the street. Very taken care of, not much trash around. Definitely somewhere above 50th street. I was up there with the just-now ex-husband. We were leaving the lawyer’s office and I’m pretty sure we were still walking together when I took the picture but I can’t totally remember. We were crossing the street and I think I turned toward him and I said, “This will be my photo.” And that’s when I took it — that photo of the red tulips. Either I said that to him or I said it to myself. I’m not sure if I said it to him or myself — like was he still physically with me or was he already the ghost residue that would get less and less sticky over time? I said this was going to be my photo because when we were still in the office, he had taken a photo and that was his photo. He got his photo. The table was a big wooden one and we were each sitting on either side and I don't think anyone else was in there — she had left to get more papers or something and it was just us in there signing and he took my picture. I guess he thought since there were pictures of our wedding there should be pictures of our divorce — I think he told me that, probably said it out loud. And I guess that’s why the only thing I want to take pictures of, at least when it comes to this topic, are flowers because I would rather have pictures of the most useless kinds of beauty than have the things that are useful. Sometimes I don’t think I want to have any kind of use. Or I don’t want to have that kind of use. Maybe the use of the useless. If we could figure out what that might be. So I think the pictures of flowers might be an example of that, the use of the useless. It’s also a little trick — that you can use. Like if you feel that you are getting to be too useful, too used, or maybe you’re heading that direction where you gotta put yourself to use to get the things you thought you should have or be the things you thought you should be then you realize you don't see any flowers around and you can really just turn your head or walk to the store or the uptown median or the neighbor’s garden get out of wherever you are and just move towards the flowers and you keep moving towards them and then more and more they’re gonna move towards you too.

1. Jemmison, Steffani. “Performing at a Distance.” MoMA Magazine, 23 June 2020. doi: moma.org/magazine/articles/356