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Lee Mingwei at the NGV, Melbourne, Dec 2016. http://content.ngv.vic.gov.au/col-images/api/EXHI039447/1280Photo from the NGV advertisement of the exhibition.

It’s Advent and tens of thousands of gifts

are being given all over Melbourne,

anticipating the Magis and God.

There is always a risk in taking part.

Well, think of Mao’s Hundred Flowers campaign!

I am invited to choose a flower

and, before I reach my destination,

I am simply to go out of my way;

electing one beneficiary,

with a kind of Calvinistic tulip;

endowing them with puzzling graciousness.

(The recipient must be a stranger.)

Apparently, in some cultures, people

have been known to grab more than their fair share;

others tend to shun participation,

shy from disturbing the installation.

Confident ones may pluck and then re-place,

avoiding the responsibility

of bestowal; fearing to create burdens.

Out of the crowd, slightly self-conscious,

I step forward; pick a red gerbera.

I want to keep it and, like Oscar Wilde,

use it as a button-hole, or corsage;

make myself an ambulant work of art.

Mark Twain said a man can reduce his age

by several years, if he sports a bloom.

Maybe I should tuck it behind my ear?

But it’s not about gaining attention and

it would be like burying a talent.

Perhaps we will blossom in our giving?

The capitulum looks like one flower,

but botanically is hundreds of them.

One act of bounty could well mutiny.

Cultigens, cultivated by humans,

can be altered by our activities.

Hybridisation is the way to go!

For one hundred days, the artist carried

a lily with him, until it withered.

He’d planted it when his grandmother died.

Was love a burden till he released it?

So, now that I have this omnipotence,

am I involved in predestination?

Is a person’s worthiness the focus?

Should I positively discriminate?

Ought race, gender, or disability

come into it?  I think gratuity

might be fun.  All eyes seem to be on me.

A Sikh couple have no need of colour;

an erhu busker needs no distraction

and is well- acquainted with interplay.

In the hospital foyer a small girl

is disinhibited and receives it,

understanding the language of flowers,

instinctively, knowing that gerbera

stand for innocence, purity and joy.


  • ‘ Tulip’ was the Calvinistic acronym for the’ 5 points’:
  • Total depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Immutability of God
  • Perseverance of the saints

Lee Mingwei was born in Taiwan.  He produces

participatory installations and encourages strangers

to explore their self-awareness, trust and tolerance of

intimacy.  He raises awareness of the preciousness of

human connections in the brief encounters of our lives.