We had bought phosphorescent latex vampire skull masks for the party. They looked ugly enough.
“Ask a toad what is beauty… He will answer that it is a female with two great round eyes coming out of her little head, a large flat mouth, a yellow belly and a brown back.” (Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, 1794)
To my surprise, I saw a bunch of Chrysanthemum bushes in pots pop-up on my neighbours’ tiny porch (a hairstylist and an art merchant – they have taste – and awards in fact should be given for their massive investment in greening our block’s courtyard)
I remember putting the skull mask on as I got really drunk, and trying relentlessly to scare people.
Chrysanthemums were once infamous and pathologically disliked flowers, widely associated in popular French culture with the all-saints holiday, and the Cemetery. The Mexicans also associate them with the day of the dead and have done since pre-Hispanic times. Mexicans though - who maintain a much cooler relationship with their dead and death in general - have associated the Marigold (the Chrysanthemum’s cousin) with the summoning of the spirits - through their strong scent it is said that they guide them to the food offerings laid out for them.
It would seem that in france, the Chrysanthemum is currently getting a chance out of the cemetery. It is now to be found among manky organic veg’ and handmade sweat-shop-free, organically grown cotton, limited series shirts; all the norm for the alert, ultra connected city dwelling male slasher; all odes to the odd and the ugly. In the same way nature once made the odd perfection, now it occasionally makes the odd imperfection. Chrysanthemums. This is what we’re seeking for!
Last thing I did was remove the skull mask in an attempt to make out with a friend who wouldn’t let me. “You appeal to me, intellectually” he said, and I left the party because it was more crap than I could handle.
In his legendary 1992 critical article “the Cult of the ugly”, Steven Heller, introduced by Voltaire’s quote re-transcribed above, states that the cult of ugly in graphic design often fails to produce more than a style without substance. “Ugliness as a tool, a weapon, even as a code is not a problem when it is a result of form following function. But ugliness as its own virtue – or as a knee-jerk reaction to the status quo – diminishes all design” says he… Hum, what was the function of the Chrysanthemums again? And the one of the skull mask?
I was drunk, sad and tired in the cab. And as I tried to sleep my way home, the cab driver was afraid that I would throw-up in his car. He opened the electric window each time he saw my head nod. “And Sir! Stop it, I never throw up in cabs!”. Great style indeed, grand dysfunction.