Ophrys at Powell Gardens

Video by Chadwick Christopher


In the fall of 2021, Powell Gardens and Kristopher Dabner approached me to curate the arboretum during orchid season. I carefully planted a garden of artists around a restaging of Olympia, Édouard Manet’s 1863 painting of the reclining nude prostitute Victorine Meurent and Laure, a professional figure model, posed in the painting as her maid.

We caravanned to our staged space and set up the cameras and supplies inside the flower-packed glass walls. We started at 4am and worked until we lost light and the general public arrived. 

The polaroids, paintings, videography, digital images, photographs, sketches, and wet colloidal plates captured a morning of artists working together to create something outside of their medium in a lush environment. The scene challenged everyone to grow quickly and intuitively. We bloomed together. 

I invited the following artists to participate:

Robin Rubash- a professional runway model and highly established Only Fans trans woman performed as Victorine Meurent 

Clarissa Knighton- a sculptor and figure model performed as Laure, the posed maid.

Rachel Portesi- an internationally-acclaimed wet colloidal photographer from Virginia working with women, hair, and botany.

Riley Valentine- a twenty year old film photographer from Chicago creating iconic editorial staging young queer Midwestern identity into vintage hotel rooms

Jessie Greene- a recent graduate of KCAI building a body of paintings based on tropical plants and self-portraits.

Dean Kube- an established formal painter and teacher whose work, attire and natural look fit the role. I cast Kube as a modern Édouard Manet. 

Chadwick Christopher- a videographer and commercial photographer who continuously creates excellent work with women by establishing quality boundaries and pushing his medium.

Luis Mortero - born in Mexico City holding a BA in photography, Mortero creates tiny masterpieces with his cell phone. His ability to become invisible has shown me the corners of a room I didn’t know existed.

Nyonu Branch - a professional journalist, Nyonu assisted me in language for the project so everyone was contractually compensated and cared for.

Calvin Arsenia- an international musician performed on his recently acquired light shifting purple harp.

Photo: Riley Valentine