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Garlands, an intimate show of photography-based media from Cynthia Farnell at Poem {88}, offers a lovely meditation on … well … loveliness. Five photographs, all ink jet prints on Belgian linen, along with a projection video, offer lush garlands of white, pink and coral flowers, among them many varieties of lily, arranged, as the title suggests, in garlands upon a background of pure black.

As sumptuous photographs of flowers in their prime, they call to mind lines from the poem by the English lyric poet Robert Herrick who beseeches us to “[g]ather ye 

Cynthia Farnell: "Garlands (______)" (2016). Pigment ink jet print on Belgian Linen, __” x __”, edition 1/5.

Cynthia Farnell: “Garlands (Spray)” (2016). Pigment ink jet print on Belgian Linen, 10” x 36”, edition 1/5.

rosebuds while ye may,” evoking similar comparison to the vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries which were themselves a meditation on time and mortality, reminders that we, too will fade away and pass from the world. Their dimensions, all but one narrow in width and vertically oriented, recall Japanese scroll paintings, especially the lotus-like Garlands (Waterlily), 2016, but it is the flowers themselves that lend a gentle quality of promise to otherwise elegiac work. Lilies, especially the trumpet-shaped Easter lily, are associated with rebirth and renewal, as is the lotus, or waterlily, which can also signify rebirth, purity, or beauty from the darkness, growing as it does from the mud.

Elegiac as they are, it is possible that Farnell intends something more linguistic. A framed poem by Megan Sexton entitled “Garlands” seems to suggest so, filled as it is with references to grammatical terms – declensions of color, the pluperfect of silver green, prepositions of pink.  It seems most apt as a statement for Farnell’s video, which offers to those who will take the time with it an ever-so-slight, but ineffably altered, state with the quality of a dream. The same flowers commemorated in her photographs drift in from the top of the frame across a screen that mimics the black linen, settling to accrue along the bottom – until the screen goes black and the process begins anew.

In Milk and Wine,  a prior  installation from 2016 with some visual similarity to Garlands, Farnell, according to information on her website, explored “cultural and personal memory via the intertextual relationships between photography, objects, and projected images. “ mining her father’s lifelong habit of cultivating lilies to “explore how we incorporate, carry, and pass on memory, place and identity.”

Surely some of this also informs the work in Garlands, and perhaps it is simply that Farnell is not yet finished with her father’s lilies, but these newer photographs have a mournful quality, especially the mesmeric video, that seems to depend on the symbology of these particular flowers that whisper a sense of regeneration and renewal, echoing the sentiment of Sexton’s poem:

permutations/ of the eye/reading the silent/ grammar of/ hot country lilies,/ assembled,/passed along  – one sentence ends,/another is always/ beginning.


Garlands will be on display at Poem 88 through January 28, 2017.

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