I had a friend in high school who used to fill her bong with wildflowers every morning just in case her parents came in and got a wiff of what was really going on. The bong, like the much loved pets and stuffed animals of our youth, had a name and a personality. Her name was Hilda and she preferred a lavender and eucalyptus arrangement in her stem (since those were the most potent of the foliage available, and matched her swirling purple-green body dashingly). One day we came home from school, ready for a certain type of play date with dear Hilda, and there she was–on the kitchen counter, filled with the most beautiful Mother’s Day arrangement.
“The dream of this project was to at once hide bongs from plain view, and embrace their presence as household decor,” says painter Louise Sheldon, one of the artists behind R.I.P, a Renaissance still life inspired photo series depicting bongs as objects of beauty, personality and function. Using their friend’s personal water pipes, Sheldon, Glen Baldridge and David B. Smith filled each object, titled with the name each owner gave, with a unique flower arrangement inspired by the bong’s personality. “Each bong had a different personality and for the flower arrangements it was like casting actors for a play to help us describe a narrative. We matched a variety of flowers and plants that we got from the flower district to accentuate each one's energy and aesthetic.”
Green Flowers, 2013, watercolor on paper, Louise Sheldon
Floyd, porcelain, Glen Baldridge
The project is a collaboration of talents and themes from the three artists who are all living and working in New York. Sheldon’s soft watercolors often include painting of indulgent flower arrangements while Baldridge, in addition to works on paper, has created cannabis inspired sculptures, like his Honey Bear porcelain water pipe. “The bong is a challenging vessel to do arrangements in because it is so narrow also because many of them can barely hold any water,” explains Sheldon, but the result, morphing the high and low of cannabis and floral cultures, highlights not only the flowers, but the bong as an art object. “We decided to photograph them in a Renaissance style because we love the masterful and passionate still lives of that period but wanted to defy expectations by depicting a modern subculture in a camouflaged way.”
We naturally form bonds with our smoking devices, anthropomorphizing our bongs and pipes into objects with human traits and qualities. This project immortalizes these pieces by capturing their individualities in a classical portrait style, while embracing the functionality, and humor, of each bong. “We used backgrounds that looks like marble from gravestones to give each piece a monumental, timeless quality.” Sheldon explains. “Each bong holds memories and the spirits of the people who gather around it.” Bongs break, they get too dirty, they accidentally get turned into flower vases and put in our mom’s collection of chachkis, but with Sheldon, Baldrige and Smith’s photo series, they live on in beauty and artistry. Too bad Hilda wasn’t one of the memorialized.
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