Diana Sofia Lozano’s floral sculptures often feature fluorescent blooms and spiky petals sprouting from tendrils of braided steel. Monstrous in size, with spiky exteriors and austere steel fittings, the works seduce viewers with tropical colors, bold textures and reflective surfaces. The sculptures often appear almost animated, as if they are grasping, flailing or even waving; Whether standing at eye level, wrapped around a ceiling beam, or dangling out in front of the viewer, they appear to confront the viewer. During our recent studio visit, Lozano described her pieces as “performing . . . like flowers in tow.”
While the sculptures are wild and fantastical, they also have a critical edge, challenging the Linnaean system of biological classification. Created by the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century, this taxonomic system draws on numerous gendered and heteronormative characterizations. Many scholars over the past few centuries have proposed changes to Linnaeus’ taxonomy: although he classified plants according to their sex characteristics, recent research in the fields of botany and ecology indicates that the sex identities and methods of propagation of some plants are not so simple and perhaps best described as queer be characterized. Lozano helps her viewers savor this botanical defiance and think deeply about the complicated relationship between perception and subjectivity.
Lozano is the daughter of two botanists, so she has always been keen on flowers. Growing up in Colombia, she visited her father’s farm weekly, where he was experimenting with genetically engineered apple guavas. At the age of eight, Lozano moved to Florida with her mother, an orchid specialist. While working toward an MFA at Yale from 2019-2021, Lozano took a new interest in family calling and began exploring the intersections of queerness, race, and botany in America. The artist is critical of botany as a discipline inextricably linked to Western imperialism, but her work also celebrates the inherent mystique that surrounds plants. “In animals, behavior is more predictable,” she said, “but . . . Even in ancient philosophy we asked ourselves: do plants have a soul? Do you have desires?”
Along with Linnaeus’ taxonomic system, the 18th century also brought microscope-armed botanical explorers to America to identify, illustrate, and eventually extract local flora for the Spanish Empire. The colonists picked plants from their native habitats to study their reproductive parts, giving them European names and categorizing them by the nature of their sex organs. However, it proved difficult to accurately visualize botanical specimens once they had been torn from their original soil. Their blossoms closed, their colors faded, their leaves withered before their images could be captured.
Lozano’s noisy sculptural hybrids exaggerate such identification problems by probing a spectrum of plant defense mechanisms that sometimes require interaction with animals. A reproductive process inspired by the collaboration between orchids and bees Palingenesis (indefinite phase), 2020. A male bee, believing he is smelling a female bee, is drawn into the orchid flower where pollen sacs attach to the bee’s body. Resembling a Gothic monster recently emerged from the depths of a fairy tale forest, thorny, sprawling palingenesis is twine-wrapped and has a scorpion-stinged tail embedded with purple pods, and boasts moss-like flocking and paper flower seedlings. Two orange, leaf-like, metal mesh “feet” trail yellow powder, which spills onto the gallery floor. Although Lozano’s works mimic the natural world, they are evidently made of artificial materials: steel, epoxy, resin, clay, plaster and silicon.
A mirror attached to a creature’s tail reflects a poetic excerpt from her father’s book on orchids, written backwards on a nearby wall: profundo sentimento, admiración y extasis (“deep feeling, admiration, and ecstasy”), a reference to the eroticism and hypersexualization that pervade botanical study, as well as the human tendency to find meaning and beauty in flora. That’s important to Lozano, who describes flowers as a “super accessible” motif.
In previous works – floral sculptures adorned with fashion accessories – Lozano explored the fluidity of gender expressions by dressing her flowers with jewelry and other cues of identity. The work in Sub Rosa, her 2019 two-person show with Alina Perez at the Deli Gallery in New York City, included body piercings and charm bracelets. Some of the dangling sculptures were adorned with hoop earrings and nameplates, jewelry that arguably identifies them as ethnic, racial, or even specifically Latina. As the flower serves as a locus of subjectivity, Lozano’s work provokes the viewer to reflect on the attribution of identity through decorative signifiers. Throughout, she celebrates the full spectrum of processes beyond pistils and stamens that keep plants alive: their protective protrusions, intoxicating fragrant emissions, and the relatedness between species.
This article appears in the May 2022 issue, p. 60–61.