Flora Non Fauna
by Georgia Rhodes
There is often a division in our minds between our quiet domestic life and the chaotic grandeur of nature that exists just outside of it. Georgia Rhodes shows us how intricate and complicated the thread between those two worlds can be, in her series “Flora Non Fauna.” This series intimately explores where and how we curate the natural world into our modern life—leaf printed linens, floral dresses, wood harnessed by the delicacy of switchplate. In her interview below, Rhodes shares her thoughts on these exchanges, how it materializes in her work, and where she thinks her work might adventure to next.
Q: You write in your statement for “Flora Non Fauna,” “When we’re frightened, the instinct to flatten comes through in remarkable ways: swatting the fly, whacking the spider with a shoe. Growth in consideration of landscape is a confusing notion, the need to keep it aligned while also preserving its foothold in our world.”
Much of your work deals with this exchange between outside landscape and interior domestic space. Have you always been interested in the relationship between these two? What experiences have you had that have inspired you to explore more into this relationship?
RHODES: I have always been interested in both but not necessarily together. I was playing around with the idea, doing things like dragging my bed out to parking lots and photographing it, but it wasn’t until I had moved to the South that I began considering my interests simultaneously and seeing how they were working together in my new environment. I’m from Michigan, so it was big change. I became obsessed with the ways people managed their lawns and decorated their homes.
Q: The photographs in this series have a seemingly saccharine quality to them, but there is also a disconcerting amount of tension hiding just beneath the surface. It reminds me of the quiet moment one might see in a film, just before being bombarded with a surprise twist. What do you think is the cause of the anxiousness working behind the scenes in this particular series of images?
RHODES: Well, I’m a highly anxious person, and I harbor a lot of guilty feelings about the environment. I’m not great at recycling, I don’t spend enough time outdoors. I wanted to consider this intimately and on a personal level, where things can get pretty dark. That’s the idea behind most of my still life images in the series. Most of the time I was just feeling badly about having to get rid of cut flowers that were dying or leftover watermelon rind that I thought was a lot of matter to throw away. Sometimes I felt that if I could use these things just one more time, I wouldn’t feel so bad. It’s not always rational which makes things uncomfortable.
Q: These photographs also have a very personal, intimate feeling to them. Are the images from this series from a familiar place? Did you work in one general landscape or did you work from several locations?
RHODES: Most of the images are all from my house, my yard, and about a 100 yards either-way from my front door. The only ones outside of my immediate home are from an old quarry where I used to spend a lot of time exploring and swimming with my friends. For this project I was interested in really thinking about the landscape that I could certainly call my own.
Q: You refer to the cultivation of landscape as a kind of flattening—a transformation from the outside landscape into the comfortable interior of our minds and our homes. Do you feel this is true for everything that we bring from the unknown into the recognizable? Could you explain more about your concept of flatness?
RHODES: My concept of flatness is that it’s a technique used to make things easily understood, something that can be read on the surface and cleaned up. I think it’s certainly a way to deal with the unknown. But, hopefully, after the initial sort of arranging, we deepen our understanding. It’s a way of making thing safe and to the point. It’s an aesthetic that I’m really interested in. I like the way it works.
Q: What draws you to the medium of photography? Why is photography your chosen medium of expression?
RHODES: I choose photography for a multitude of reasons but I was first drawn to it for the power of memory and how strongly photography is tied to it. Photographs can make you think something is real when it’s not, or remind you of something you’ve forgotten completely. You can frame something in a way that is so personal but it can seem so mundane and vice-versa. You can tell stories, tell truths, lie completely. I like the way that you connect with people, the psychological implications of reading a photograph.
Q: Do you consider “Flora Non Fauna” finished? Do you have anything new that you’re excited to be working on?
RHODES: I do consider it finished. I found the experience really meditative, and it was a great way to work out why I was interested in the relationship between domestic space and landscape. I find the way people respond to it really gratifying. As for new projects, I’ve been working on a body of work that will hopefully culminate into my MFA thesis that I’m really excited about. It’s a continuation of what I was thinking about in this project but instead of a cultivation of the inside based on the outside, it’s more of a consideration of what our relationship with the landscape is currently, in a time when an HBO GO login in basically currency and the struggle of whether or not to binge watch all of “Scandal” is real. I think the way we interact with nature is really unique right now, how our technology use affects the way we view the landscape. I think the immediate reaction to the idea is that it is negative, but I don’t necessarily think so. It’s just different than it used to be.
Georgia Rhodes is a Michigan native, artist, and educator now working in the American South.