Among the tightly-packed displays in the cavernous main exhibition hall of the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale, Paperwork and the Will of Capital: An Account of Flora As Witness by US artist Taryn Simon stands out as one of the most thought-provoking and carefully-crafted artworks.
Simon’s installation explores the overlooked role of flowers as a form of soft diplomacy. The artist at first appears to be presenting them as silent witnesses to the establishment of international treaties and governmental agreements. Yet her focus on these objects gradually transforms them from innocent observers to conduits of complex political meaning, both as symbols of national identity and gestures of peaceful objectives.
In a series of vitrines, Simon presents a photograph of a floral arrangement from a particular meeting and a detailed analysis of its contents alongside a pressing of replica flowers. As these floral tokens degrade, mirroring the gradual disintegration of the contracts they have represented, Simon reveals the ability of even the most innocuous objects to be coopted as forms of propaganda in the interest of political and economic gain.
Image: Installation shot from Paperwork and the Will of Capital: An Account of Flora As Witness by Taryn Simon, 2015, in Room 2, Arsenale, 56th Venice Biennale.