Insectology Heather Boaz Rebecca Clark Jennifer Coster Craig Dennis Susan Eder
Marian April Glebes Talia Greene Mike Libby RenĂŠe Rendine Lola Robinsky
The Silber Gallery
Goucher College Athenaeum
â€œSomething in the insect seems to be alien to the habits, morals, and psychology of this world, as if it had come from some other planet: more monstrous, more energetic, more insensate, more atrocious, more infernal than our own.â€? â€”Maurice Maeterlinck
Throughout history, insects have inspired many artists. With their numerous habitats, behaviors, and forms, insects are logical candidates for artistic expression. In Insectology, Heather Boaz, Rebecca Clark, Jennifer Coster, Craig Dennis, Susan Eder, Marian April Glebes, Talia Greene, Mike Libby, Renée Rendine, and Lola Robinsky study the insect world and translate their observations into visual expressions of human behavior, experience, and existence. Whether incorporating insects directly by using body parts, entire dead specimens, or live participants, or indirectly by translating investigations into drawings and photographs, each artist’s work piques our curiosity and challenges our perceptions.
—Laura Amussen, curator
Heather Boaz works with video, drawing, and mixed-media installation. One spring day, she was drawing in her studio with the doors wide open. Several sheets of paper were scattered on the floor, and she noticed that an ant was scurrying across one of the sheets, traversing it repeatedly. At times, the ant would leave the paper and Boaz would think it had gone, only to watch it return. Boaz identified with the antâ€™s travels to and from and across the paper, the sense of being lost but with purpose, so she grabbed a pen and her camera and traced the antâ€™s meandering across the page. She continued tracing until the ant left and did not return.
Ant Map, 2007 video
Bee 4 (look), 2009 graphite on paper 6” x 7.5”
Rebecca Clark’s meticulously rendered drawings of plants, animals, and insects suggest a mystical engagement with the natural world. Clark describes her process of drawing as an act of meditation—time spent quietly observing and contemplating nature. She offers viewers a glimpse into secret worlds where life is maintained and sustained by ancient cycles of the earth—cycles that have, by and large, been forgotten or dismissed outright by industrial society. She hopes her drawings will convey a flash of the numinous, remind us of our relatively small and new place on this planet, and awaken our consciousness to the larger cosmos of which we are a part—an idea described by Plato as anima mundi, soul of the world. Humans have deep physical and metaphysical evolutionary bonds with the natural world, but through arrogance, rabid pursuit of material wealth at the expense of the planet, and psychic alienation from our true origins, we run risk of losing our soul and our home. Let these drawings serve reminders of life: the vibrant power, beauty, and cooperative intelligence inherent in our nature.
Jennifer Coster uses time, drama, wonder, and metaphor to work with natural systems and investigate how the body reacts to changed environments. On an airplane one night, she noticed how the path of the city’s street lights below resembled the tunnels made in the ant farms in her studio. She began to collaborate with the ants to create biomorphic paintings, stating: “I am interested in how the ants and I inhabit the same world. But I will never know what it is to be an ant. What does it mean to collaborate? If I want the ants to dance, I have to play by their rules. I play by their rules. They play by my rules. But we still don’t know each other any better. We’ve just adapted.”
Untitled, (cityscapes), 2009 ant, ant farm, glitter, sand, and apple 24” x 20” x 1.5”
Wingspan (Monarch), 2002 thirteen abutted, framed LightJet prints on metallic paper, each 13.5” x 20”, installation 13.5” x 260”
Susan Eder and Craig Dennis have collaborated since 2001, producing art that reshapes instinctive ways of seeing—in particular, ways of seeing photographs. Intrigued by the gap between representation and abstraction, they often operate at the very fulcrum on which images pivot from one mode into the other— where pure abstraction starts to represent, and the recognizable is transmuted into new meanings. In Wingspan (Monarch), 13 sequential photographs were taken edge to edge across the widest expanse of a butterfly’s extended wings, revealing flaws and scars accrued through the insect’s surprisingly perilous airborne life. The highly magnified images are printed on metallic paper, greatly enlarged to make the insect’s body the width of an average human torso, creating a full human-scale wingspan.
untitled (stitched, fourth attempt), 2009 moth, sewing thread
Marian April Glebes is a conceptual and mixed-media artist whose installations and sculptures focus on urban/suburban environments, the character and power of the artist, and the use of site-specificity and the art object as tools for social change. Her recent work repairs and preserves various insectsâ€”they are grotesque mortuarial attempts to preserve or mend, meticulous gestures executed on discarded found carcasses, impulses to restore order in a fragile environment.
In her delicate and tactile prints and installations, Talia Greene mines our ambivalent relationships with our bodies and with nature, highlighting our futile attempts to control both. She explores the contradictory associations we have with insects, and the way in which those tensions can complicate our understanding of ourselves and our place in the natural world. As pests and interlopers in our homes, insects elicit an uncomfortable feeling of losing control of our bodies and surroundings. From a distance, their chaotic nature feels menacing and contrary to the order of human society. In Weaver Colony (2010), Greene questions our assumptions about the disorder of nature. Here, chains of weaver ants, working together to form bridges and towers, form delicate, lacy ribbons that move across the walls and around posts, colonizing corners of the gallery. In Colony (2010), swarms of insects engulf the subjects of Victorian-era portraits and Orientalist postcards. The ridiculous, shifting coiffures emphasize the absurdity and futility of trying to tame our bodies. Here, the insects are the invaders, modestly cloaking the body of “Une Belle Morocain,” or burying a Victorian man in the chaotic swarm of his own beard. The insects seem to become part of the people, yet at the same time, they are alien and uncontrollable. Even as we attempt to impose our will on nature, these insects impose their anarchy on us.
Weaver Colony, 2010 archival pigment print on washi paper 1” x variable length Colony (Mauresque en Costume Europeen), 2010 archival pigment print 9.5” x 14.5”
Robot-like insects and insect-like robots are the stuff of science fiction and science fact. In science fiction, insects are frequently featured as robotic critters, either scurrying across the galaxy as invading aliens or as robo-bug counterparts to a futuristic human race. There are countless examples in TV, movies, video games, comic books, even on rock-and-roll album coversâ€”the insect/robot archetype has been used, re-used, and re-imagined. In reality, engineers look to insect movement, wing design, and other characteristics to inspire new technology. Some of the most advanced aircraft are no bigger or heavier than a dragonfly, and NASA scientists are making big steps in walking rovers and swarm-theory probes for planetary exploration. Man-made technology is finding that the most maneuverable and efficient design features really do come from nature. Ironically, this technology often closely resembles the musings of science fiction. This hybridization of insects and technology from both fields is what Mike Libby borrows from, celebrating these correspondences and contradictions. The work does not intend to function, but playfully and slyly insists that it possibly could.
Insect Lab Cetonidae: Eudicella Nyassica, 2010 flower beetle adorned with brass antique watchparts, gears, and LED 3.5” x 2” x 1”
bouyant (detail), 2011 paper, water soluble plastic, glue, and pigment 8’ x 8’ x 4.5’
Insects encase themselves for protection, to create a site for metamorphosis. Utilizing their own secretions, they produce raw materials from which they build. For Renée Rendine, the insect is a metaphor for human behavior. Like insects, we are defined by the physical inevitability of our growth and reproduction cycles. Rendine explores these parallels by constructing sculptural “costumes” (through a laborious process of weaving, braiding, or sewing) that resemble cocoons and encase her body. She further develops or “activates” these structures through performance—inhabiting a structure that provides a covering for her body, as well as a site for an activity. Her motion is restricted, and she engages in action that involves the movement of a material from one part of the structure to another. This process alludes to cannibalism, and the self-sufficiency implicit in such a closed system. She shares the space intimately with her audience and communicates not only through sight and movement, but also through sound and touch. Repetitive actions build and transform a work, like a spider, spinning a web strand by strand, or a wasp, building a nest layer by layer.
Lola Robinsky uses drawing, sculpture, and photography to hybridize elements of the human form with other organic materials, and she focuses on humansâ€™ interruptions of and integration and involvement with nature. She closely works with silkworms/moths, hornworms/moths, dermestid larvae and beetles, wax worms, and harvester ants, which make sculptures through their natural behaviors, habits, survival methods, and life cycles. Robinsky provides them with the appropriate materials and decides at what point the structures they have created are removed, whether they are permitted to reproduce, and how long and in what conditions they survive. Robinsky is inspired by the insectsâ€™ sculptures and what she has learned from observing and working alongside them. She is also interested in museums of natural history, laboratories, and curiosity cabinets, an interest that translates to the installation of the piece. The organisms are researched, studied, drawn and photographed, separated and exhibited, providing evidence of the amazing things their tiny bodies can produce, the phenomenal things that the smallest creatures can do.
A Collaboration with Insects, 2009-10 mixed-media installation dimensions variable
Insectology Heather Boaz Rebecca Clark Jennifer Coster Craig Dennis Susan Eder
Marian April Glebes Talia Greene Mike Libby Renée Rendine Lola Robinsky
February 1 – March 6, 2011 artists’ Reception (including performance by Renée Rendine)
Thursday, February 10, 2011, 6-8 p.m.
The Silber Gallery
Goucher College Athenaeum Directions
Baltimore Beltway, I-695, to exit 27A. Make first left onto campus. Gallery Hours
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday. 410.337.6477 The Silber Gallery is free and open to the public.
The Silber Gallery program is funded with the assistance of grants from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the NEA, and the Baltimore County Commission on the Arts and Sciences.