Georgie Mattingley | Topias IV
1 – 29 March 2018
Georgie Mattingley, Morgue Reception, 2017, Hand-tinted Silver Gelatin Print
[ topias = utopia + dystopia + heteroptopia ]
Topias IV examines the flowers that decorate contemporary Heterotopias, including a hospital, morgue, oil refinery and a prison. Within these sterile spaces designed to harness functionality, flowers are an opposing symbol of nature and beauty.
an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.
an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad.
a place or space that functions in non-hegemonic conditions. An ‘in-between’ or ‘other’ space such as a hospital, prison, shopping centre or airport. A ‘crisis heterotopia’ is designed to conceal unruly or transformative processes from public sight so that society can remain respectably clean.
‘Topias IV’ is my fourth exhibition examining contemporary Heterotopias. This iteration focuses solely on the flowers within Heterotopias I have photographed over three years – spanning a hospital, aged care facility, morgue, prison, oil refinery, shipping port, service station and the middle-class suburbs of Doha in the Middle East. Within these human-made spaces that are designed to promote privacy, surveillance and production, the flowers are a kitsch contrast to their sterile surroundings.
In the morgue a white bouquet of plastic flowers rests majestically atop a wooden pillar by a blue curtain that can be drawn back or forth to reveal or conceal bodies of the deceased. Visiting families are ushered into a waiting room reception area with two green couches on either side of white flowers and tissues that sit on a small side table. The bright white lights and soft hum of refrigeration transport you to another place, which feels like a halfway house to heaven.
Once you’re through the security checks and harsh clanking doors of the prison, there are paved walkways that wind through garden beds of roses, yellow daisies and lush green grass. To an outsider it could resemble a university campus or public park. Prison flowers bring life and colour into a concrete jungle, as well as form a barrier between the prisoners and “no man’s land” (the electrical fence line and periphery boundary that surround the prison).
In the sweltering desert heat of Doha, green hoses attached to a sprinkler system bring water to bright yellow and orange Marigolds that line the suburban streets. Marigolds are native to the Americas, but can be grown easily anywhere. Across the Persian Gulf in Dubai, there is a shopping centre that houses a snow ski field and a three-story high tropical aquarium. Doha’s flowers are a similar but less intense version of this geographic displacement.
These Heterotopias make me imagine a dystopian world where simulations of nature and beauty are curated for human-inhabited spaces. On one hand, the flowers are a lie that disguises the death, chaos and inhospitable landscapes. But on the other hand, they are also a beacon of our hope, resistance and empathy. They show that we care enough about each other to put flowers in our morgues and our prisons. They show that we can harvest life even in the barren desert. And there has to be hope in that.