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Book Review: Where Mimosa Bloom


Book Review Where Mimosa Bloom By Rita Puig-Serra Costa Reviewed by Janelle Lynch Mimosa trees bloom clusters of bright yellow flowers each spring in Rita Puig-Serra Costa’s native city of Barcelona. They grow asymmetrically tall though not often several stories, as the one in her family’s garden. A photograph of it in Where Mimosa Bloom, her new book, shows its towering anthropomorphic presence in the dense urban landscape.

Where Mimosa Bloom. By Rita Puig-Serra Costa.
Editions du Lic, 2014.
 
Where Mimosa Bloom
Reviewed by Janelle Lynch

Where Mimosa Bloom
By Rita Puig-Serra Costa
Editions du Lic, Oslo, Norway, 2014. 96 pp., 54 color illustrations,, 6¼x8¾".


Mimosa trees bloom clusters of bright yellow flowers each spring in Rita Puig-Serra Costa’s native city of Barcelona. They grow asymmetrically tall though not often several stories, as the one in her family’s garden. A photograph of it in Where Mimosa Bloom, her new book, shows its towering anthropomorphic presence in the dense urban landscape. A still life of a dried mimosa branch from the same tree appears later in the book, an indication, like title itself, of the tree’s symbolism. Puig-Serra Costa combined these and other images with memorabilia to create a lyrical visual elegy to her mother, Yolanda Costa Rico (1959-2008).

There aren’t any words on the book’s cover, just a detail of a faded snapshot of Puig-Serra Costa as a girl in her family’s light-dappled garden. This could indicate that it’s a book of photographs, but its intimate size is more akin to a literary work. Puig-Serra Costa studied comparative literature before graphic design and photography. Where Mimosa Bloom recalls Edward Hirsch’s epic poem, Gabriel, about the life and loss of his son, and Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diaries, reflections on grief and longing that he wrote after his mother’s death. It also conjures the Argentinian photographer Lorena Guillén Vaschetti’s, Historia, Memoria y Silencios, images she made from a rescued archive as a means to reconsider her maternal family’s past. Among Puig-Serra Costa’s influences is Rachel, Monique the sound, video, and photography installation by the French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, an elegiac meditation on the life and death of her mother.

Where Mimosa Bloom. By Rita Puig-Serra Costa. Editions du Lic, 2014.

Following the mimosa-colored front papers are thumbnail-size portraits, revealing her maternal family tree through cut-out-windows: grandparents, an aunt, her parents, and Puig-Serra Costa herself. The visual narrative continues with other images culled from family albums, including those she took as a child, and those she made in collaboration with the Spanish photographer Dani Pujalte during the years 2012 and 2013. Also included are reproductions from the trove that she as the only child inherited: an entry from her mother’s first diary, doodles, cards, and a recipe for chicken broth. It’s an amalgamation of media, formats, and genres that suggest the protagonists’ identities and succeeds as a testament to their bond.

Among the most arresting photographs is Little Bird, a double-page close up of a premature baby bird cradled in Puig-Serra Costa’s softly lit hand. Life-size and featherless against a black background, it evokes abandonment and fragility, but also the strength to rescue and attend to life. The gesture reveals another inheritance — a caring, capable spirit. “When she died, I felt like a bird whose mother had abandoned the nest. I had to learn how to fly on my own,” Puig-Serra Costa said in reference to the image.

Where Mimosa Bloom. By Rita Puig-Serra Costa. Editions du Lic, 2014.
Where Mimosa Bloom. By Rita Puig-Serra Costa. Editions du Lic, 2014.

My Milk Teeth, a still life of Puig-Serra Costa’s baby teeth laid out like white jewels in a tiny treasure chest affirms what many of the pictures communicate — Ms. Costa Rico’s love for her daughter. We see it in photographs of them at the beach, in the countryside, and in young Puig-Serra Costa’s smile.

Where Mimosa Bloom could have become too sentimental, but does not because of its thoughtful sequencing and layout. Designed in collaboration with Pujalte and Nicholas McLean, the personal material is well-balanced with the imagery. Photographs of Ms. Costa Rico’s simple possessions are intermittently presented as neutrally documented objects like those in a museum’s collection: a colorful array of fans and hair sticks, one with a butterfly, another with feathers; a dominoes set; and a blue cylindrical object with a lid, which looks more like a small sculpture than a beach ashtray.

Where Mimosa Bloom. By Rita Puig-Serra Costa. Editions du Lic, 2014.

The exquisite posthumously-written letter to her mother that she included in Catalan and English at the end of the book is, however, perhaps nonessential for the publication. Puig Serra-Costa succeeds at articulating its sentiments throughout all that precedes it. For example, it ends, “When I came to your room and asked you for advice, or for something that I could hold onto forever, you said, ‘Stay strong, stay free, but most of all, be a good person.’” With the contemplation that Where Mimosa Bloom merits, Puig-Serra Costa’s embodiment of her mother’s wisdom is understood intuitively.

Where Mimosa Bloom. By Rita Puig-Serra Costa. Editions du Lic, 2014.

Praia da Cova, the last image in the book, is a singular example of how Puig-Serra Costa deftly shows through imagery what she has expressed in the letter. She is depicted floating on her back, isolated, in a vast lake under an overcast sky. Lush mountainous terrain undulates in three distinctly different green slopes near the horizon. The water, which also shifts in tone from blue to black and white, ripples around her in the foreground and forms a crescent that cradles her body. Her outstretched arms echo the arc of the lake as it bends around the landscape behind her. In this peaceful communion with nature, there is, at last, acceptance of it.—JANELLE LYNCH

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Selected as one of the Best Books of 2014 by:
Daniel Boetker Smith

JANELLE LYNCH is a photographer, teacher, and freelance writer based in New York City. She was a 2012-2013 Fellow at the Writers’ Institute, CUNY Graduate Center. Her second monograph, Barcelona, was published by Radius Books in 2013. www.janellelynch.net

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