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Frieze London 2021

Gareth Mcconnell on Why Flowers Are Essential for Optimism


The photographer explains about why he chose fauvist florals for his Frieze London and Frieze Masters 2021 campaign commission


BY Neal Brown AND Gareth McConnell in Frieze London , Frieze Week Magazine | 04 OCT 21

My earliest images of flowers date back to 1999, a year after the Good Friday Agreement came into effect, and I photographed the Albert Bar, a loyalist pub in my hometown of Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. Around the same time, my father, a builder, was renovating an old undertaker’s, where there were a couple of dusty, plastic wreaths – one lying on a bed, one hanging on the back of a door – which I also photographed. Back then, however, I was more focused on making political work, whether it be about drug addiction or the situation in Northern Ireland. To take something like flowers and really try and make the subject matter your own is difficult. Artists have to walk a little bit of a tightrope to ensure they’re not straying over into complete kitsch.

Gareth McConnell, Dream Meadow XIV, 2021, specially commissioned by Frieze

For the body of work that I made for Frieze Week, I was thinking about those first interactions I had with flowers, with the wreaths and the Albert Bar. However, I wanted to make something that was more universal and optimistic, something new. Flowers are mood altering – both dysphoric and euphoric – so I was trying to tap into the psychedelic, mood-altering experiences of my teenage years. Part of the process is to go out and gather flowers, arrange them, light them and shoot them. It requires long exposures on a tripod, which may last for seconds or even minutes. I loved Fischli and Weiss’s double-exposed flower works – the ‘Flowers & Mushrooms’ (1997–98) series. I first saw those about 15 years ago, and the catalogue is a treasured possession.

Like many, I am indebted to William Eggleston, whose dye transfer prints I saw at London’s Barbican Gallery in 1992. Those works just really imprinted on my mind – as did Robert Mapplethorpe’s; Mapplethorpe knew flowers, and what they could be made to express. What I love is the fact that, when images of flowers go out into the world, it feels like they’ve got a real job, with art-historical continuity. People like to look at pictures of flowers; they want to put them on their wall.

Gareth McConnell, Dream Meadow XXI, 2021, specially commissioned by Frieze

Music is an integral part of my creative process: I usually have some kind of Andrew Weatherall-ish, post-punk, ravey, country and western, acid house, disco going on. I’m trying to lose myself in the music. There’s a little bit of dancing, too. I just try and let go with the flow of all that, which might mean moving the camera backwards and forwards, or side-to-side, or shaking it – even dancing while I shoot. It’s very much about trying to seek and create little moments of joy and movement.

In the face of global events like COVID-19 and the politics of the world at large, I feel a need to dance more than ever before: that primary human need to be together – jostling bodies and music, smoke and lights – creating a sense of reprieve. Dance, flowers and art generate a spirit of optimism that is essential right now.

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, October 2021 under the headline ‘In Bloom’, as told to Neal Brown.

Main image: Gareth McConnell, Dream Meadow XXII, 2021, specially commissioned by Frieze

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.

Gareth McConnell is a photographer based in London, UK. His publications include Wherever You Go (2002), Sex, Drugs & Magick (2014) and The Dream Meadow (2019). In 2021, he was commissioned to create the artwork for the Frieze London and Frieze Masters fair campaigns.