Sexual Selection

Photo: Jo Ann Fleischhauer

The Art League
Houston, Texas

Sexual Selection re-conceptualizes an aspect of The Parasol Project, a temporary installation completed in 2007 at the historic Foley House in downtown Houston. The house façade and window apertures bloomed with 120 handmade umbrellas digitally printed with colorful floral-like configurations derived from Black and White Magnetic Resonance Images (MRIs) of the brain.

For the Art League installation, the extravagantly colored and patterned parasols have been reshaped into three different silhouettes and hung upside down from tree branches in the Art League’s Sculpture Garden as if they are Birds-of-Paradise in courting display. The viewers may be struck by exotic color, pattern and shape peaking through the dense spring foliage.

I was inspired by the documentary film, Paradise Found, which chronicled the identification and photographing of all 39 species of Birds of Paradise in New Guinea. The evolution of the different species has been purely based on “sexual selection” or the female’s preference and vantage point.

The plumage of the male birds is extraordinarily extreme in color, shape and structural design. Some of the feathers have evolved without efficiency and efficacy of flight as the dominant trait. Instead, the feathers have transformed into “ornaments of seduction” for their exotic courting rituals. The males are not monogamous; the female raises her young alone, therefore she scrupulously critiques potential mates to reproduce the “best” offspring.

During Victorian times, parasols were used to flirt, convey hidden feelings. Preferences. Love. Interest. A secret dance of courtship. The brain scans on the surfaces suggest a contemporary way of tracking and visualizing possible emotions.

As a conceptual evolution of Parasol Project, Sexual Selection explores ideas of visual aesthetics, not as superfluous decoration, but having a direct relationship to form, function and evolution.

- Jo Ann Fleischhauer 2014