Sometimes I feel ashamed to be human. Or perhaps it’s more of a kind of disbelief that this is my classification. How very odd to be a member of this strangely motived species. It often happens while watching the eight o’clock news. In one prison in Rwanda, there was so little space in the communal cell that the prisoners had to sleep standing up against each other. Can you imagine that?
Most recently this sensation came to me at a Saturday morning show at the National Arts Festival. I’d been told it was the kitsch hit of the fest: a bunch of middle-aged women arranging flowers to music.
Entitled Chansons, Lumiere et Fleurs III (an ode to its roaring success in previous years), the show is billed as “floral theatre at its best”. “Four floral artists combine songs, poems, light and flowers into an unforgettable theatrical experience.” Upon arrival I am met by two huge buckets of hydrangeas and a woman with very neat hair and a baggy velvet tracksuit who assures me that if I’m lucky I might even get some fudge thrown in with my media pass. An omen of things to come.
This show is such a bizarre regression to Seventies DIY decor it makes Biggie Best look like Terence Conran. It has to have been one of the strangest experiences I have ever had in my entire life.
Such delight in the women’s faces as they wheel out stilted wheelbarrow-loads of daisies and petunias to the accompaniment of Elaine Page and Enya. One arrangement even gets placed in a huge jug of Lecol to best highlight the song lyrics which say something cheery about ice-cold orange juice on a sizzling hot day. I find myself distractedly clapping along to the African number, a merry rendition of a tune by the Soweto String Quartet. Truly, the only rootsy thing about it was the plant life.
In the maritime theme piece, which features flowers arranged to resemble the aquatic life of a fishtank, a pair of shark jaws threatens to gobble up some little orange fish made of dried grass. “How lovely!” pants the wife sitting next to me into the ear of her bored, obedient husband. Women can be really scary. I say a little prayer thanking the goddesses for the presence of Camille Paglia on the planet. Thank heaven for little girls? Under the circumstances I’d rather give thanks to those feminist guerrillas who have waged an unrelenting, heroic struggle against all this suffocating suburban femininity masking centuries of repression and powerlessness. Without them, where would I be today? Trimming hedges? Pruning the roses?
As the show goes on I find myself sinking into a deeper and deeper state of despair about the human race. How petty we seem with our hobbies and our haircuts. The things we do to pass time. Weird exhibitionist acrobatics in a desperate attempt to evade our mortality. Is this the meaning of art? A flash of colour on an empty canvas. A stiff little smile in the spotlight before the darkness falls and it’s all over.
The whole show is so exceedingly jolly, I find myself entertaining some unexpected thoughts. “Do these women treat their maids as well as their gardens?” I wonder. “Do they enjoy sex as much as they enjoy flower arranging?” This thought intensifies in the Africana-style wood and rock installation enacted to the words of an ambiguous and erotic DH Lawrence poem about a slithery snake lurking in the dark depths of the garden.
Things get stranger and stranger. Indeed at the height of a floral doppelganger sequence (dried flowers reflecting dried flowers in mirror-image fashion), I catch myself fantasising about bursting into the auditorium with a sub-machine gun and pulping the whole Rand Show’s worth of flora. For fear of institutionalisation I’ll end it there. Suffice to say Chansons, Lumiere et Fleurs III was a truly unexpected emotional rollercoaster. Gutted by a bit of innocuous flower-arranging? Jumping geraniums, what’s next?