Diana Sofia Lozano’s floral sculptures often feature fluorescent blossoms and spiky petals that sprout from vines of braided steel. Monstrous in size, with prickly exteriors and severe steel armatures, the works—featuring tropical colors, bold textures, and reflective surfaces—seduce spectators. Often postured as if reaching, flailing, even beckoning, the sculptures appear almost animated; whether standing at eye level, wrapped around a ceiling beam, or dangling to meet your gaze, they seem to confront those who observe them. During our recent studio visit, Lozano described her specimens as “performing . . . like flowers in drag.”
While the sculptures are wild and fantastic, they also have a critical edge, challenging the Linnaean system of biological classification. Created in the eighteenth century by Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus, this taxonomic system relies on numerous gendered and heteronormative characterizations. Many scientists have proposed alterations to Linnaeus’s taxonomy in the intervening centuries: though he classified plants according to their sexual characteristics, more recent research in the fields of botany and ecology show that some plants’ gender identities and propagation methods are not so straightforward, and might in fact be best characterized as queer. Lozano helps her viewers savor that botanical defiance and think deeply about the complicated relationship between perception and subjectivity.
Lozano is the daughter of two botanists, so she’s always looked intently at flowers. She grew up in Colombia, making weekly visits to her father’s farm, where he experimented with genetically modifying apple guavas. At age eight, Lozano moved to Florida with her mother, an orchid specialist. While working on an MFA at Yale from 2019 to 2021, Lozano took a new interest in the family vocation, and began to research the intersections of queerness, race, and botany in the Americas. The artist is critical of botany as a discipline inextricably tied to Western imperialism, but her work also celebrates the inherent mystique surrounding plants. “With animals there’s a more predictable set of behaviors,” she said, “but . . . even in ancient philosophy, we wondered: Do plants have souls? Do they have desire?”
Along with the Linnaean taxonomic system, the eighteenth century also brought botanical explorers armed with microscopes to the Americas to identify, illustrate, and ultimately extract local flora for the Spanish empire. The colonists plucked plants from their native habitats to examine their reproductive parts, assigned them European names, and categorized them according to the nature of their sex organs. Yet botanical samples proved difficult to illustrate accurately once they were yanked from their native soil. Their blossoms closed, their colors faded, their leaves wilted before their images could be captured.
Lozano’s loud sculptural hybrids exaggerate such identification problems by sampling a spectrum of plants’ defense mechanisms that sometimes call for interaction with animals. A reproductive process that involves cooperation between orchids and bees inspired Palingenesis (indeterminate phase), 2020. A male bee, thinking it smells a female bee, is drawn into the orchid blossom, where sacs of pollen get attached to the bee’s body. Resembling a gothic monster recently emerged from the depths of a fairyland forest, the thorny, sprawling Palingenesis is wrapped in twine and has a tail like a scorpion’s stinger, embedded with purple pods, and boasting moss-like flocking and floral seedlings made of paper. Two orange leaflike “feet” of metal mesh trail yellow powder that spills on the gallery floor. Though Lozano’s works mimic the natural world, they are obviously made with artificial materials: steel, epoxy, resin, clay, plaster, and silicone.
A mirror attached to one creature’s tail reflects a poetic excerpt from her father’s book on orchids written in reverse on the nearby wall: profundo sentimiento, admiración y extasis (“deep feeling, admiration and ecstasy”), a reference to the eroticism and hyper-sexualization that permeate botanical study, as well as the human tendency to find meaning and beauty in flora. This is important for Lozano, who describes flowers as a “super accessible” motif.
In earlier works—floral sculptures adorned with fashion accessories—Lozano explored the fluidity of gendered expressions, dressing her flowers with jewelry and other markers of identity. The works in “Sub Rosa,” her 2019 two-person show with Alina Perez at Deli Gallery in New York City, incorporated body piercings and charm bracelets. Some of the dangling sculptures were ornamented with hoop earrings and nameplates, jewelry that arguably marks them as ethnic, racialized, or even specifically Latina. The flower serving as a site of subjectivity, Lozano’s work provokes viewers to consider the assignment of identity via 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 interspecies kinship.
This article appears in the May 2022 issue, pp. 60–61.