We hang here. Two thousand of us flattened. Limp, with no space to live or to die. Waiting to please your ever-so-temporary desires. Glass, everywhere: in front and behind. Two thousand of us meet two thousand of you. You, who are free to breathe, free to stand, free to carelessly blow in the wind, free to do whatever your human heart desires. Two thousand of us meet two thousand of you, yet we are still alone.

Preserve 'Beauty'

Preserve 'Beauty' 1991–2003

Anya Gallaccio (b.1963)


You line up by the tens, in awe of our beauty. But what is beauty? They say it is within the eye of the beholder, but the very nature of subjectivity introduces an inevitable shadow of doubt. We are not beautiful, we are perfect. We are two thousand perfect scarlet gerberas.

You gaze into our vivid scarlet folds and lose yourself for a moment. The delicate curvature of our petals like miniature mountain ranges, forcing your eyes to follow as our paper-thin layers overlap. The piercing black void at our centres distracts you for a moment, while your mind briefly returns to the meaning you all so dearly crave. Our sweetly intoxicating scent intensifies as you draw closer still, frantically searching our rows for some imperfection: none. Your eyes travel down until you reach our long, slender stems, the sole, painful reminders of our short-lived freedom.

But does our red corrupt you? We wear our Scarlett Letter with pride; so should you.

You may come and go, but we are always here. Until we are not. We become tired of pretending. As you will soon learn, there is always a crueller price to pay. Even your precious Dorian's perfections withered with age.

So we are drained of life: our rich crimson pigment slowly bleeding from us, craving a breath of the fresh air we have not felt in so long. Our fatigued petals exhale, releasing the gentle tension which provided them with their structure. Our sweetly intoxicating perfume turns sour, enveloping your senses with the blood-curdling scent of death. Are we still 'beautiful'? For, as Sappho said, 'beauty endures only for as long as it can be seen'.

We fall: down, down. Our time has ended, and our roles will be replaced. But we will always be two thousand perfect scarlet gerberas.

Variaam Tratt, first-place winner of Write on Art 2021, Years 10/11