RUBY BARBER OF MARY LENNOX: BLOSSOMS IN BERLIN
From her Berlin atelier, florist Ruby Barber of avant-garde florist Mary Lennox is subverting traditional flower arranging into something beyond the realms of imagination. Bunches and bouquets might be replaced by a single statement stem, and centrepieces usurped by progressive structures made of hay, adorned with local produce.
The daughter of a gallerist and photographer was profoundly impacted by her creative parents’ occupations. “I was always surrounded by beautiful things and inspiring people from an early age. It definitely had a huge impact on how I see the world,” she says; and through her own career path, Barber has found herself reaching for beauty in non-traditional ways and gaining a cult following as @ruby_marylennox.
Flower arranging has always been about creating something attractive, but in her work Barber seeks to go beyond surface aesthetics in favour of something more meaningful, more emotionally visceral.
Flowers have a remarkable effect on people and working with a medium that is so connected to human emotion was something I was drawn to.ARRANGEMENT BY RUBY BARBER
I’ve witnessed so many acts of kindness and celebration and the earliest memories are from times that I saw flowers have a positive impact of people.
Last year, a commission to work on a wedding in the Italian countryside provided an unexpected opportunity to marry the emotional charge of a wedding with a creative brief usually only commissioned in more experimental editorial contexts. “Wedding work isn’t usually particularly creative or inspiring but this couple was an anomaly,” says Barber of the Montalcino celebrations..
Despite giving the disclaimer that “any recount I give won’t accurately describe how many beautiful things that took place over the course of this job,” the florist goes on to describe something so outlandishly beautiful and open-mindedly artistic, it would seem more naturally at home at an art gallery, some kind of Frieze or Basel fringe performance event..
We worked with giant haystacks and dirt piles to create abstract sculptures around the venue and the giant circular table, which stood in the centre of an olive grove, was decorated abundantly with fruit and vegetables from the local area.
The bride had a huge party of bridesmaids and each held a single stem of an overblown lily. They walked down the aisle and placed each stem in a bare pile of dirt that would frame where the couple said their vows. It was so raw, beautiful and a true celebration of the Italian landscape.
What made such a commission so exhilarating was it allowed Barber to exercise her life-long penchant for breaking the rules. “Traditional floristry is so foreign to me at this point, I’m not sure I even know the ‘rules’ anymore. At college, I was getting terrible results from my teachers because they didn’t like the forms and flower selections I made and eventually I began to disregard the feedback,” she says..
One of Barber’s biggest sources of inspiration is travel. The opportunity to break away from what she knows and experience new surroundings and environments from which to draw inspiration “always feels pretty wild, even when the project is seemingly ordinary,” she says. “The sourcing for destination projects always takes us to beautiful places and we meet so many amazing suppliers.”.ARRANGEMENTS BY RUBY BARBER
Perhaps unusually for someone occupied with natural materials such as flowers and plants, Barber describes herself as a “city kid”, who feels at home in urban environs. The contrast of the built environment and natural forms excites her, especially where the two bumpy up against each other, fighting for dominance. .
I love when I see the nature interacting with the man-made; a tiny bloom poking up through concrete, a forgotten corner of the city that has been taken over with vine.RUBY BARBER, BERLINDITA SASU PICTURED
This contrast translates into the work Barber produces, coming through in the selection of a single yellow rose, photographed not at is blooms into the traditional picture of verdant beauty, but with it’s head bowed, almost in wilt, as if to make an altogether more nuanced comment on beauty, life, ageing and death. “I like to work with a mix of flowers that are classically beautiful with a hint of something unseen and unexpected,” explains Barber.
Indeed, how the work is situated and photographed is as important, if not more so, than the selection and ‘building’ of the flowers themselves. “…even if I have made a fairly traditional arrangement, I would shoot in a modern or contrasting environment. We’re so over saturated with images of beautiful flowers (not complaining!) so I think it’s important to find new ways to showcase them.”ARRANGEMENTS BY RUBY BARBER
Barber’s work redefines what a floral arrangement can or should be, while still respecting the natural beauty of the flora’s forms. “I’m trying to showcase the natural product in its best light,” she says. “Generally, I hope to make something eye catching.” The end result can be beautiful, strange, or even ugly, stirring deep feelings in the viewer as they question their own gut reactions - a ploy that puts Barber’s work in the realm of art.
I’ve realised that the language of flowers is so positive and powerful and its universal.
Barber’s work not only appeals based on these innate qualities of the materials she harnesses, but bends their traditional connotations as she subverts this meaning. Once she has shattered preconceived notions of what can and what cannot be considered beautiful, Barber opens up the viewer’s mind to see the merits of the often overlooked.
The project of Barber’s life work isn’t to subvert nature, but to dismantle our ingrained, traditionally held beliefs about it. Rather than grapple against its unyielding power, Nature inspired Barber’s to channel a creative force, as if like nature. “Obviously, nature is ultimate designer,” she admits. “The best compositions are often a reflection of how the flowers might be found in its natural environment. Even if I am creating something completely unnatural I’m always paying homage to nature itself.”
TEXT: Laura Havlin
PHOTOGRAPHY: Becca Crawford
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