Ann Shelton, selﬁe (pale green rose), 2021, pigment print, 117 x 89 cm (framed), edition of 6 + 2 AP. Courtesy of the artist and Two Rooms
Ann Shelton: A flower, a maverick
By Jo Bragg
The word “technology” is elastic, at times mean-ing an artefact an obdurate object—at others, an activity or process. This slippage of application presents opportunities to rethink contemporary and seemingly concrete historical categories.
Wild and intangible, the ﬂower, as with the garden, is both thing and metaphor. Objects formed through cultivation. The importance of aliveness, shifting forms and changing states at whim, is to go beyond what gender theorist Jack Halberstam identiﬁes as the “technology of gender enforcement.”1
Ann Shelton’s photographic series, an invitation to dance, sees eight ﬂowers immaculately presented—staged. While not literal portraits of a person, these ﬂowers have character. The title of the series takes its name from a work of historical ﬁction about the life of protofeminist Lola Montez (1821–1861). The invitation of each work is to learn something about history, the dance is in applying this to our contemporary times.
Notable for many things: a savvy self-promoter, writer, photographer and dancer; Montez is, famously, the ﬁrst woman in history to be photographed smoking. The theatrics of each ﬂower reference the authorial agency and sym-bolic potency of Montez as both a person, and as persona.
Often photographed with ﬂowers in her hair, Montez is an enigmatic ﬁgure. A master of self-concept. A maverick who lived life so far beyond the ascribed roles for women, as dictated by the era in which she lived, that her life is now sensationalised: pop cultural in its reach and ability to be retold. Long before the everyday theatre of the ‘golden hour good lighting’ selﬁe, before the iPhone camera dictated that to live is to self-promote, Montez was telling the story of her life as it unfurled in real time. Her constant state of self-authorship is to be understood as an artistic tool fundamental to her as a person and artist in the 1800s.
Montez and the ﬂower become a metaphor for power throughout an invitation to dance. The ‘garden’ too is coded—it is no coincidence that the etymology of the word ‘paradise’ is ‘walled garden,’ and that the walls around this garden are manyfold.
Rendered scentless and no longer able to scratch or cover our hands in dirt as ﬂowers do.
When staged and displayed like beauty queens and pageant winners behind glass, the paradise of these images is to be found beyond the walls—in returning to the garden.
These photographs of ﬂowers stand-in for a distant paradise: for the natural, the raw and the unadulterated. A timely reminder to reembrace the practical magic of living and consider the cultivation of one’s own self-concept.