Since I was young I’ve been collecting insect specimens. Part of preparing the specimens for display involves spreading them out in the desired position, held in place with pins, until they dry/set in that position. Once they are set, they can be transferred to display/storage cases which are tightly sealed and contain camphor (a strong-smelling insect repellant) which helps keep them safe and in good condition.
Whilst going through a box of old things in the attic, I found a cigar box in which I used to set specimens. However in the years since I had opened the box, all the specimens had disappeared. They had been eaten by dermestid beetles, a common pest in insect collections. The box is now filled with the beetles’ exuviae and droppings, while the pinned insects are now just dust.
Pinning insects is an attempt to press the Pause button right after death, to stave off decay and freeze an object in time. In this case nature has secretly pressed the Play button while I wasn’t looking.
Praying mantids (like all insects) grow by periodically shedding their “skin”, which is actually their skeleton. It cracks open and they slowly slide out of it, leaving the old skeleton (exuviae) behind. This is a period of transition, when they are at their most vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. They emerge soft and weak, barely able to walk and unable to catch food.
I’m interested in the way these structures remain as reminders of what used to be, a record of every bump and groove of its body. They are almost ghostly and ethereal, like an echo or shadow made flesh. Remains, not as a reminder of death but as evidence of growth, and continued life.
Material experiments for Action At A Distance series.
Flyspeck on cotton. The dead flies pile up in crevices, blocking other flies from depositing flyspeck, which leads to variations in print density.
Print density is highest on “peaks” of material, where most flies prefer to congregate and have a higher likelihood of depositing.
The porosity of the print medium has a huge effect on the type of marks that get made. These two circles were made by the same fly group, fed the same food in the same conditions. The porous kitchen paper on the left absorbs the flyspeck very well, leading to larger, more diffuse marks and colours. The paper on the right absorbs very little, and all the flyspeck remains tight, thick and dark on the surface.
“Visualising other worlds is a collaborative exhibition curated by artists Melanie King and Martha Gray. The exhibitions theme "Envisioning Other Worlds" is inspired by the ever-present curiosity within human nature to explore the unknown, whether that be the microcosm between our feet or the vast emptiness of space and created through the Raw Labs Art and Science Public Engagement residency.”
Show is on until 24th February.
More info at the Lumen Studios site.
These works by Hannah Fletcher are reminiscent of tree rings but are actually chromatograms of soil samples collected from around tree roots. While tree rings are the way we look at the history of a tree, a snapshot of its life, these works seem almost like portraits of possible futures. The minerals around a tree’s roots may have found themselves absorbed by the tree eventually, affecting and influencing its growth, but here they are diverted and exposed to us like small forks in time. Each one also acts a sort of miniature timeline where the central point marks a beginning, the starting point of the minerals within the soil sample, and the concentric rings around this become end points, the furthest areas to which each mineral travelled. The cumulative effect is like a collection of endings.
Hondartza Fraga’s pieces play with the contrast between the quality of marks and the imagery they portray. The drawings could be pencil, certainly handmade, but they depict images of a planet in distant space, almost like they were made long ago by a traveller before the advent of photography. We are so used to seeing this imagery in a digital context, and to rerender it physically by hand is like giving body to the digital, almost like imbuing material objects with some sort of ghost or spirit that has been restlessly shooting through wires in the form of light and energy, endlessly duplicated but always searching for a material to inhabit, a place to rest.