Paul Harfleet plants pansies at the site of homophobic abuse; he finds the nearest source of soil to where the incident occurred and generally without civic permission plants one unmarked pansy. The flower is then documented in its location, the image is entitled after the abuse. Titles like “Let’s kill the Bati-man!” and “Fucking Faggot!” reveal a frequent reality of LGBTQ+ experience, which often goes unreported to authorities. This simple action operates as a gesture of quiet resistance; some pansies flourish, others wilt in urban hedgerows.
The artist began by planting pansies to mark his own experience of homophobia on the streets of Manchester UK, he now plants pansies for others both on an individual basis and as part of various festivals and events. Increasingly his developing practice involves film making, at each location he visits, the artist makes a short film revealing the historical, cultural and personal histories of the plantings, these films have been shown at various institutions and festivals including the Everybody’s Perfect Festival in Geneva, The Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas and most recently in Ottawa at the National Gallery of Canada. If Homophobia Ended Tomorrow, below was shown as part of the on-line iteration of the the Nuart Aberdeen Festival during the #Lockdown.
HOW IT BEGAN – BY PAUL HARFLEET
A string of homophobic abuse on a warm summer’s day was the catalyst for this project. The day began with two builders shouting; “it’s about time we went gay-bashing again isn’t it?”; continued with a gang of yobs throwing abuse and stones at my then boyfriend and me, and ended with a bizarre and unsettling confrontation with a man who called us ‘ladies’ under his breath.
Over the years I have become accustomed to this kind of behaviour, but I came to realise it was a shocking concept to most of my friends and colleagues. It was in this context that I began to ponder the nature of these verbal attacks and their influence on my life. I realised that I felt differently about these experiences depending on my mental state so I decided to explore the way I was made to feel at the location where these incidents occur.
However, I did not feel it would be appropriate to equate my personal experience of verbal homophobic abuse with a death or fatal accident; I felt that planting a small unmarked living plant at the site would correspond with the nature of the abuse: A plant continues to grow as I do through my experience. Placing a live plant felt like a positive action, it was a comment on the abuse; a potential ‘remedy’.
The species of plant was of course vitally important and the pansy instantly seemed perfect. Not only does the word refer to an effeminate or gay man: The name of the flower originates from the French verb; penser (to think), as the bowing head of the flower was seen to visually echo a person in deep thought. The subtlety and elegiac quality of the flower was ideal for my requirements. The action of planting reinforced these qualities, as kneeling in the street and digging in the often neglected hedgerows felt like a sorrowful act.
The film above was made by MZM Projects at the Nuart Festival in Stavanger, Norway in 2019: Director Statement: “One way or another, even the documentary nature of this project didn’t stop us from paying sentimental tribute to our favourite gay artists: Derek Jarman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Luca Guadagnino and surely Paul Harfleet. With this piece, we want to believe that the day “when homophobia ended” becomes one step closer.” – Kristina Borhes.
Paul Harfleet has appeared on TV, Radio and various podcasts talking about his work and has been the subject of documentaries, most notably Les Pensées de Paul made in 2015 in France by Canal+, directed by Jean Baptiste-Erreca and won several international film awards. He has also spoken at many different events from M&S HQ, the British Library and most recently at the Nuart Festival in Stavanger, Norway. If you’d like to book the artist for an appearance contact him here.