Lord’s account revealed little more than this. Big questions lingered for Hubbard and Birchler: Where did the rest of Mayo’s life take her? And where was her art? When other art history tomes proved useless, they turned to shipping and ancestry logs, census and housing records, and local newspaper accounts.
It wasn’t until Birchler made a “crucial research discovery,” says Hubbard, that they were able to flesh out Mayo’s story. The missing puzzle piece was Mayo’s son, David. He knew a different side of his mother that transpired after she left Paris, set her art aside, and made a new life in California. It was David who would become the subject of Flora.
“No one has ever contacted me wanting to know about my mother, Flora, ever,” says David, now 81, in the film’s opening moments. He was shocked when Hubbard and Birchler reached out to him, but an exchange began: The artists explained to David what they knew of Mayo’s life in Paris, and David what he knew of Mayo in her later years.
Flora weaves together these two distinct existences: in Paris, as an artist; and in California, as a mother and factory worker. The two-channel video is projected on opposing sides of a large screen that hangs in the Swiss Pavilion. On one side of a large screen, we see a fictional reimagining of Flora in the happy, confident throes of creating Giacometti’s bust. An actress portrays a young, lovely Mayo careening around her studio, studying her muse and building her sculpture.