Skip to content

Last summer, E. V. Day spent three months as an artist in residence at Monet's garden in Giverny, France, with the charge that she find inspi- ration in the floral idyll being the only condition of her stay. The fifty works that visit yielded, fifteen of which comprised this show, began as horticultural residua. Day trailed Giverny's gardeners on their pruning rounds and selecred the most striking of the clipped boranicaJs, which she then pressed in a microwave, scanned digitally, and printed, magni- fied to eighteen times their original size, on photo paper. Color has not been manipulated, but form has: Half of each image was mirrored, rendering the individual flowers bilaterally symmetric, their pistils and sramens forming a vertical axis ringed by petals of brilliant, almost lurid, oranges, pinks, and purples. 

On first look, this projecr seems a shift for Day, and not only for its transition from the three-dimensionality of her sculptural practice to the emphatic depthlessness of the digital print. Feminine archetype though it is, the flower as a theme feels somewhat tame stacked up against previous endeavors that considered gender precincts via Barbie dolls, fishnet stockings, and thong underwear. Her claims for it are in turn more modest; whereas she said in 2006 that her art transforms "a sexual or feminized trope into a statement of power and indepen- dence," her description of the aim here sounds straightforward and, in its evocation of rhe Impressionist enterprise, nearly quaint: "I cre- ated these images to transcribe the intimate sensation of being alone in the drama of Monet's garden when it's in full-bloom." Yet while the artist succeeds on this count-the large prints, tightly hung in a small gallery, effect chromatic envelopment-the work has greater stakes than she lets on, and consequences that take up and extend earlier concerns. 

The upshot of Day's process is the denaturalization of her natural source material. It's hard to believe that these colors haven't been trumped up digitally; the supersaturated hues look artificial, even ste- roidal. Water Lily, 2010-11, makes a hallucinatory violet mandala of Monet's perennial (an unwitting reminder that the paintings he pro- duced toward the end of his four decades in Giverny unhinged mark from referent to a degree that verged on abstraction). And while the splayed buds have an under-glass specimen quality, and one could prob- ably learn all one needs to know about pollination from rneir blown-up reproductive organs (squashed bugs even linger in a few), Day's medium and scale have a distancing, flat- tening effect on her subject, one reinforced by the blossoms' trans- mutation, through digital mirror- ing, from irregularly shaped objects into quasi-geometric ones. For all of their verisimili- tude, they don't read as having once lived-and possible asso- ciations with other living things are accordingly blocked. 

Georgia O'Keeffe is the obvi- ous lead here, but if O'Keeffe's flower paintings give rise to bodily analogies and sensations (and, more importantly-as art histo- rian Anne Wagner has argued- threaten their stability, and that of the legibility of the represented body), these prints do the opposite. None of the equations that O'Keeffe made, and then upended, obtain; there is little femininity in the flowers and nothing sexual, let alone erotic, in their giant anatomies-the "Seducers" that give the series and exhibition its title. They conjure instead, in Day's apt sum- mary, "faces and masks; mammals and insects; religious iconography: altars, angels, shivas, chalices, mandalas; patterns and forms that sug- gest baroque and art nouveau," and her comparison of the symmetrical blooms to Rorschach tests is telling in this context. As her earlier work has demonstrated, and as "Seducers" does in a subtler, promising key, curtailing a symbol's potential as a container for one kind of projection clears space for it to become a repository for others.