Capital, Diplomacy and Carnations

 In Lifestyle

A few weeks ago, I stepped into a gallery in Brussels to see an exhibition by the American photographer Taryn Simon. The walls were covered with large color photographs of flower arrangements, 13 in all. Each photograph was framed in wood, and embedded in each frame was a long caption. One began: “Agreement establishing the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation. Al-Bayan Palace, Kuwait City, Kuwait, May 30, 2006.” Another: “Framework agreement for economic cooperation. Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 12, 2012.” It was these captions that made the arrangements legible, confirming that, far from being merely decorative, the flowers were charged with historical meaning.

I saw this new exhibition — which has the intriguing title “Paperwork and the Will of Capital” — in late October, and decided to write an essay about it. When I returned to the United States in early November, I was caught up in the presidential campaign and too distracted to write anything; I figured I’d get to it on Nov. 9. The shock of that morning’s election result was not mine alone. I lay in bed in grief and confusion. I was not merely “sad.” I was derailed. All my work suddenly seemed pointless. It was so difficult for me to organize thoughts into language that I felt as if I’d had a stroke. It wasn’t until late on Nov. 10 that language slowly returned. The return of the ability to write felt like resistance, the reclamation of an insight: Even at the worst of times, there is nothing pointless about the work we do as critics or artists.



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