Collier Schorr

Collier Schorr talks about her “Blumen” series

Left: Collier Schorr, Untitled, 2006, C-print, 38 3/4 x 31“. Right: Collier Schorr, Arrangement #8 (Blumen), 2008, C-print, 39 x 31 1/4”.

Collier Schorr was born and raised in Queens, but for many years, she has made a second home in Schwäbisch Gmünd, a town in southern Germany where, partially inspired by August Sander, she has set about making informal studies of the population. Last month, Schorr’s project “Freeway Balconies” opened at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, and on July 21, she opened an exhibition at the Villa Romana in Florence, primarily featuring works from a new series titled “Blumen.”

I'VE COME TO Schwäbish Gmünd every summer for eighteen years. How I first got here is sort of uninteresting. I was traveling with a friend from New York and just ended up here. It was an escape from New York, an escape from the art world. I was really interested in German photography, because at the time Lisa Spellman, the owner of 303 Gallery, was showing a lot of it—Andreas Gursky and also Thomas Ruff. Being intrigued by that work, and then going to Germany and actually looking at the landscape, I imagined the position of an entitled outsider, a character who does not belong but who has assumed some kind of ownership. The fact that the US Army had two bases in the town had a lot to do with this feeling of surveyorship.

There’s something illicit about the “Blumen” photos, a literal trespassing. In order to get the flowers, I have to go into strangers’ gardens and yards to steal them. Then I have to go someplace that’s not my place and build this thing; within minutes, the flowers begin to wilt, changing shape and color. And inevitably, the wind blows them down. It takes about six minutes to construct a structure. It’s the perfect illustration of the term deracinated. I like that about it, the clarity of its purpose. It’s the opposite of arranging a still life in a studio with a table—and unlimited time. Here, you tie a flower to two or three sticks and hope it stays up. After I take the picture, I take a step back and look at this little theater or shrine to nothing that I’ve built and then tear it down. The picture is a document of a public sculpture or an act of vandalism.

So much of my portraiture involves small props or costumes, things like skulls or keys or canes, or relatively obvious iconic objects. But the people are essentially being arranged between these objects and references. I wanted to make pictures of nature that also felt arranged and compromised. To take the most passive, feminine object of beauty and cut it loose, bind it, and then animate it with a heightened sense of emotion.

I made the first “Blumen” picture after looking at Robert Mapplethorpe’s Pictures book. I was struck by how much freedom Mapplethorpe was able to extract from his model’s restraint—that in tying up and cropping his models, he appears to be able to work with people as forms. I never thought about my flowers as related to his (which I saw as annoyingly erotic); I thought of them in relationship to bondage. I wanted to make the flowers more aggressive and ironic and less docile and sensual.

If you limit yourself to one place, it only changes so much; I found it necessary to start altering the landscape a little bit. I used to think in terms of comparative literature, where one interrogates a text by posing it against another. More and more, I am drawn to something less fictive or poetic and more concrete and descriptive. In the field of archaeology, discoveries can be used to prove ethnic mythologies—ownership is determined by artifacts. Imagine that something buried could be attributed to a culture, proving that one tribe arrived before another. And could interpretations manipulate history? I’ve always taken things from underneath and put them on top, so it would make sense that I would pull all the flowers out and try to see them better by contrasting them against the sky.