Amor Omnia Vincit

Amor Omnia Vincit

2005, Cibachrome, 125 cm x 1100 cm.

Commissioned by Houthoff-Buruma


"There is a subtle menace in Smulders's photograph: twisted twigs cut across the composition, and the blue watery center of the image is a void, which threatens to engulf the floral fragility. Although Smulders has used the classic photographic genre of still life, color is exaggerated and hyperreal, combining to create a jarring effect that is far removed from the perceived idea of the flower photograph. Like many contemporary photographers, including Helen Chadwick and Susan Derges, Smulders has perceived death in nature, the inevitability of decay. Flowers emerge from the image like teeth and tongues; body parts drift in liquid, destined to rot."

from: What makes great photography - 80 masterpieces explained by Val Williams


Amor Omnia Vincit: chaos?

For generations, we biologists have wondered as to whether nature is really so
chaotic as it appears to be. We seem to find natural woodland, scrub or meadow
fascinating; all those hundred different plants in amazing colours with their endless
shades of green, red and white. What to imagine of the myriad number of insects
and other animals, vertebrates and invertebrates? If we went as far as to take a
soil sample under the microscope we would see thousands of bacteria and other
What an utter chaos, how could I possibly understand all of this? Besides, do I
really want to? After all Pythagorus said nature permits itself to be studied not to
be unravelled. However the urge to fathom things seems unavoidably connected
to the human mind. Humans especially by their inquisitive nature desire to
understand everything that surrounds them. Numerous studies have made clear
that there is no such thing as chaos. Actually, it is quite the reverse. Each
organism has its own purpose while form and colour are always connected to
function. Nothing is coincidental. Nature is more than the sum of its parts, it is
anything but chaos.
Why should we struggle to unravel the work Amor Omnia Vincit and to understand
and explain it from a biological viewpoint? It is just that I realise that art is a way to
sublimate, engage in reverie and enjoy oneself. And yes, doesn’t that apply to
nature to?
Coupled with these insights, the habits and the tradition of biology let us try to
explore Amor Omnia Vincit. How can we find an answer to that question if this
work of art is chaos? The research of nature boils down to observation and
explanation. We look carefully around us in order to clarify what we see. When it
comes to plants and animals we have found out through meticulous analysis that
what we see actually belong together. In nature there are no separate organisms
but groups of different species that we describe as communities. Organisms
always form a group, and if unwilling or unable to join they are rejected since they
have to draw from the same source of food or fight for the same water or light
source. When they do remain together we consider them as being in harmony. To
all intents and purposes it appears chaotic though we slowly come to understand
that in form and colour but also in function there is harmony in the chaos. Not just
chaos, but a well ordered whole of infinite value.
Let us take three more parameters from the biology: diversity, transition and life
cycle. Researchers often become euphoric when on bended knee discover that a
field contains more than a hundred different plant species to every square meter:
diversity in every sense of the word! Not to mention the way in which nature
manages to side-track the researcher. We observe in the field not that which we
expect to see when we attempt to explain nature. The key I found from my own
research was that I needed to look at all phases of life itself. A seedling can
respond to its surroundings than a fully grown plant that almost instantly catches

the eye. Such a plant could have developed a high level of resistance against
most any dominating features in its environment. Consequently, we expect to see
a plant that is however not what it seems to be. Closer observation has shown that
the seedling cannot possibly survive these environmental factors and so that the
species is probably doomed. The same applies to animals that the young
responds differently than its parent. Finally concerning transitions: within the
landscape they form the most exiting places as on the cliff edge where often the
prettiest flowers can be seen.
Did the artist aspire to a beauty abstracted from nature and serving no other
purpose than to please? In itself a very noble goal. In the same way, just as we
deal with nature, though we do not know enough to understand but we enjoy
enormously what we see of her. Perhaps the artist did have similar intentions with
this work?
Let us analyse this work in light of developments in biology and then try to answer
the question if Amor Omnia Vincit is really as chaotic as it seems. Chaos is after
all the feeling that first arises when viewing
this work of art. Eleven whole meters of intriguing chaos that seems to have
unfolded by chance. We see air and water, stars, flowers, and fishes. Could we
draw closer to these separate elements using the basic tools of the biologist that
of determination and nomenclature? Certainly, we can recognise Roses, Lady’s
Mantle, Finger flowers, Bluebells, Poppies, Water Plants and even a Daisy called
Margriet. Do the colours tell us whether it is summer season or not? The hues of
colour are amazing. Blue, red, green, white, yellow and in every tint imaginable.
So summer it is. Are these elements then ordered naturally? No not in any
biological sense. Sometimes are placed standing, other times hanging or then
again laid down. From an ecological aspect they hardly belong together: fish are
not classified with finger flowers. It appears to be chaos.
What about the criteria of absolute value, that of diversity? I count dozens of
different species. Diversity rampant! Was the artist actually inspired by diversity,
that variety that is pervasive in nature? And does that end in chaos? Next, life
cycles. It is wonderful to see these again in this work of art. Obviously the artist
learned her lessons well during her excursions in the field. Not only did she
photograph grown plants and animals but also the several stages in life cycles are
depicted. Remarkably, it is the transitions in this work though often by degrees are
sometimes abrupt. From earth to water and back across the banks, from sky to
earth and from flower to animal. The ripples in the water vaguely reveal the
mysteries underneath its surface. It is like a genuine walk through nature, yet
different, fortunately!
As a biologist I do equally detect logic and non-logic. Curiously, because just as in
nature there is the feeling that it all fits together. Viewing this work from another
perspective, what would I see? First the whole, which is impressive and grand just
like nature! It is as overwhelming as a volcanic outburst. However there are

aspects that still draw my attention. What is that frog doing there and also that
goldfish? What is their meaning? They do not belong there, at least not in my
perspective. Could they have been left out then? No, they seem to form
associations that make the work a singular entity. Its whole is more than the sum
of its parts!
I must give up. This isn’t biology. It must be art, but if art what does it mean to a
dabbler who is otherwise a biologist? Is art pretty? No not always. In this it is
to nature. Nature if often pretty but not all the time. Nature can also be gruesome,
relentless and unforgiving. This is what I see in art too. The viewers are
mercilessly confronted with themselves and with reality.
I believe this work is certainly confrontational too. Distressingly fascinating and
overwhelming precisely because of its appeal. It is magnificent, it just is! Not from
an ecological view, still it works. Agreeable chaos.
That leaves us with whether it is pretty as it is and not because I can understand
it? It fascinates me and continues doing so. I think that what art is all about. I am
touched by its colours, composition and form.
Amor Omnia Vincit is chaos but in harmony and of great beauty. A teeming chaos
which just did not happen not by coincidence. But how then? Do I really want to
know? I had better stop questioning and start enjoying.

Cornelis Blom