The Lost Desire

Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed), Frida Kahlo, 1932. It was Kahlo’s first painting on tin

 

On July 4th, 1932, Frida Kahlo suffered a miscarriage in the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. In this disturbing work, Kahlo paints herself lying on her back in a hospital bed after a miscarriage. The figure in the painting is unclothed, the sheets beneath her are bloody, and a large tear falls from her left eye. The bed and its sad inhabitant float in an abstract space circled by six images relating to the miscarriage. All of the images are tied to blood-red filaments that she holds against her stomach as if they were umbilical cords. The main image is a perfectly formed male fetus, little “Dieguito”, she had longed to have. The orchid was a gift from Diego Rivera. “When I painted I had the idea of a sexual thing mixed with the sentimental” Frida said. The snail she said alludes to the slow paced miscarriage. The salmon pink plaster female torso she said was her “idea of explaining the insides of a woman”. The cruel looking machine she invented “to explain the mechanical part of the whole business”. Finally, in the lower right corner is her fractured pelvis that made it impossible for her to have children.

In November 1938, this painting was shown at Kahlo’s first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City. It was shown with the title: The Lost desire.

Orchids and Etymology of Desire

‘The overwhelming sensuality of the natural world, whose life force is one of pure desire”

Marc Quinn

 

Etymology of Desire, Marc Quinn, 2010. Quinn began his first series of orchids in 2008

 

Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton, Spring/Summer 2015 collection

 

Etymology Of Desire and Prehistory Of Desire (2010) were the centerpiece of the Alexander McQueen women’s ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2015 show in Paris Fashion Week. Cast from real flowers and parading, the orchids meditate on the human obsession of ideal beauty, achieved through the manipulation, modification and control of nature.

They were gargantuan, even dwarfing the typically attenuated McQueen models, hiked up on platform boots with a curving calligraphic heel. And they got the point across concisely – exotic, oriental, feminine. All pointers Sarah Burton wanted you to pick up in the clothes.

Maybe Burton was juxtaposing her fashion with art to assert the difference between the two. McQueen is one label that’s often lumped into that “art” category, and her last collection provoked criticism from some quarters for a degree of preciousness that pushed it beyond the realm of ready-to-wear.

 

The Diary of a Dress: Alexander McQueen Shares the Saga of How One of His Inspirations – A Peter Arnold’s Orchid Photograph – Evolved from Simple Sketch to Production Nightmare to a Stunning Gown Fit for Supermodel Naomi Campbell. Writer: Lisa Armstrong, Harper’s Bazaar, 2004

 

Kate Moss wearing an orchid printed Cheongsan by unidentified brand. Vogue USA, January 1997

A Floral Sex Symbol

Signatura rerum (The Theory of signature), orchids images from G.B. Della Porta (1588)

 

The Ara Pacis, an altar erected in Rome by the emperor Augustus in 9 B.C.E., includes one of the earliest documented depictions of an orchid (inset) in Western art. Credit: Bernd Haynold

 

Orchidaceae is a diverse and widespread family of flowering plants, with blooms that are often colourful and often fragrant. The type genus (i.e. the genus after which the family is named) is Orchis. The genus name comes from the Ancient Greek ὄρχις (órkhis), literally meaning “testicle”, because of the shape of the twin tubers in some species of Orchis. The term “orchid” was introduced in 1845 by John Lindley in School Botany, as a shortened form of Orchidaceae. All orchids are perennial herbs that lack any permanent woody structure.

The depictions of Italian orchids showed up much earlier than expected. Previously they were spotted in paintings in the 1400s, but Caneva’s team discovered them as early as 46 B.C.E, when Julius Caesar erected the Temple of Venus Genetrix in Rome. There are at least three orchids appearing in dozens of other plants on the Ara Pacis. Artists chose the flowers to emphasize a theme of civic rebirth, fertility and prosperity following a long period of conflict.

As Christianity began to influence art in the 3rd and 4th centuries, orchids and other plants began to fade from public art. This was probably due to an effort to eliminate pagan symbols and those related to sexuality. With the arrival of the Renaissance, orchids arrive back in art, but now mostly as a symbol of beauty and elegance.

 

Photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, circa 1986

 

Orchid, Patti Smith, 1998