Mike Libby adds watch parts to beetles and other insects, hollowing out their abdomens and adding watch gears, sewing machine parts, and other mechanical items to create a pleasing, sometimes even plausible, clockwork insect sculpture. His site the Insect Lab has a wonderful collection of works using insect bodies. Some are merely gears glued onto the backs of beetles, but others exhibit a creative integration. Here is one of my favorites:
Insects are often portrayed as little machines, mindless automata that work only on rote unfeeling instinct. Though I feel it is an unfair characterization, engineering and robotics are constantly looking to the insect world for inspiration. Rather than fear a robotic insect uprising, Libby’s work suggests that it might be a source of wonder, like the glass bees in Ernst Junger’s prescient novel from the 50’s:
At first I was struck by the large size of these bees.. ..They were about the size of a walnut still encased in its green shell. The wings were not movable like the wings of birds or insects, but were arranged around their bodies in a rigid band, and acted as stabilizing and supporting surfaces. Their large size was less striking than one might think, since they were completely transparent. Indeed, my idea of them was derived mainly from the glitter of their movements as seen in the sunlight. When the creature I now watched hovered before the blossom of a convolvulus whose calyx it tapped with a tongue shaped like a glass probe, it was almost invisible.
The recent works of Australian Scott Bain show a darker side to this obsession with the mechanical. In his artist statement about his ‘Micromachina’, Scott’s creations “..show how we mistreat our fellow inhabitants, forcing them to do our will.” Though certainly the prevailing attitude towards insects is one of disregard, I cannot help but be carried by the joyous whimsy exhibited in his small sculptures. Though he is using the same insects as Libby, Bain’s beetles are altered to an even greater degree, resculpted and refitted with model parts, turning them into a different and more controversial kind of lumbering mindless machine; the automobile.
These vignettes remind me of Ray Bradbury’s distainful description of wildlife-killing futurisitc cars in Fahrenheit 451 , which are only described as ‘beetles’.
The beetle was rushing. The beetle was roaring. The beetle raised its speed. The beetle was whining. The beetle was in high thunder. The beetle came skimming. The beetle came in a single whistling trajectory, fired from an invisible rifle. It was up to 120 mph. It was up to 130 at least. Montag clamped his jaws. The heat of the racing headlights burnt his cheeks, it seemed, and jittered his eyelids and flushed the sour sweat out all over his body.
Though I am no great lover of automobiles myself, if a car manufacturer ever makes an automobile that looks like a giant stag beetle, I’ll be first in line. Buzz-Zoom!