Catherine Forster

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"cactus, flower, fuck-off, love, roses"


“Cactus, flowers, fuck-off, love, roses”, explores and celebrates female identity. The piece is a follow-up to "Flower Girl". The title of the project comes from “tags” listed on the website Goodreads, for the quote “Roses may say “I love you,” but the cactus says “Fuck-off”, by J. Kintz.

The project presents in 2 parts: a multi-channel video installation, and a live performance where the videos become both backdrop and dance partner. Mark your calendar, the performance takes place, in collaboration with MaZi Dance Chicago, this October.

As with “Flower Girl”, a key component of “cactus, flowers, fuck-off, love, roses resides with the symbolic connection between flowers and women. The piece includes multiple videos of women (of various ages, body types and ethnicity) who respond to the symbolic meaning of a flower of their choosing. In the videos each participant performs 2 distinct movements: one surrendering to her flower’s motif, and a second passage rejecting its claim. Each woman owns her flower, becomes her, moving with or against her flower’s nature, while at least 1 foot remains immobile, like a stem imbedded in soil. In the live performance the women break free, but they continue to struggle with long imbedded ideologies, their movements raw and personal.

Flowers in the piece were chosen for their floriographic name, based on the Victorian Era practice of communicating through flowers. Flowers have been a symbol for femininity and womanhood since ancient times, but the Victorians created an elaborate code and system for non-verbal communication. The nuances of the language are mostly forgotten, but the implications for women still linger – the perfect woman must still be pure (Lotus) of body, innocent (Daisy) in spirit, and a wildcat (Dahlia) in bed.

I chose the tulip. I was drawn to the legend of a small boy (Western legend has it that no human power existed that could open the flower. A small boy ran to pick the flower for his mother and magically it opened) , and the strength of the tulip – no human power could open it. As a young girl I was often complemented for being “strong” yet at the same time, I was repeatedly told I would not find a husband.  Men would never choose a strong woman, especially one who might be stronger than they were, not physically stronger, but of presences. So it was good to be strong, but I must not show it, seemed to be the message. As a young girl I too wanted a handsome prince, but I learned early I needed to dampen my essence if I was going to get one. I practiced speaking softer, not so authoritarian, as I was often accused of doing. Later in my sexual interactions, I had so camouflaged my voice that “no” never came across as nay. I often think of how strong the tulip looks when it is strait and closed, and how, when it opens, it falls apart.

"Cactus, flower, f%$k off, love, roses" has been selected to be part of Chicago Artist Month.