As a semi-frequent attendee of the Oakland Art Murmur, an open-gallery art event that takes place every month, I have been lucky to be exposed to Cyrus Tilton’s works thanks to Vessel Gallery. Tilton’s sculptures are one of my favorite reasons for visiting this space; strips of cloth, plaster, rope and stone are wrapped around endoskeletons of wire and wood to create birds, beasts, and bodies full of animated character and dignified mystery.
For the month of October, the entire two-story gallery is now playing host to an epic swarm. Humanity’s worrying propensity towards overpopulation and over-consumption is the starting point of Tilton’s latest project, The Cycle. What better animal to embody this fear than the short-horned grasshopper, known worldwide for their ability to transform themselves into swarming locusts? Well known for their agricultural destruction, locusts are often used as a mirror to humanity’s greed. On the downstairs floor, two immense locusts brazenly copulate, dwarfing the entrance to the gallery. Muslin and beeswax (in place of glue) are stretched over an exacting framework of copper and steel. The attention to entomological detail is as astounding as their unapologetic exuberance.
Surrounding the two amorous acridids are several sculptures depicting grasshopper eggs after they have been shoved underneath the earth by the female’s ovipositor. However, instead of topsoil, these eggs are embedded into blocks of concrete, the unnatural substrate of civilization’s spread. The visual nods to scientific displays are no accident; Tilton is an art director at the Scientific Art Studio, which fabricates (among many other wonders) exhibits for science museums.
Upstairs the gallery is teeming with swarming locusts, a kinetic installation consisting of hundreds of wire-and-cloth insects suspended from swaying bamboo poles. Sitting in the middle of the swarm and listening to the live droning knob-twist work of Tilton’s brother, I felt like I was amidst a great mass of ominously hovering insects, just before they move en masse to despoil another hillside. Tilton and Vessel made this lovely filmshort of the swarm in action:
Tilton had many volunteers who selflessly donated their time, helping him create the huge numbers of “individuals” upstairs. This kindled within him the hope that humanity would instead pattern itself after another allegorical type of insect, that of bees and ants, which are often portrayed as working together for the common good of the hive.
Incidentally, the smaller locusts are sold individually, 50% of the profits going to the Alameda Food Bank. Of course I had to get one. I now own 1/450th of a swarm!
The Cycle is at Vessel until October 29th, so go see it soon! I hope somebody commissions this fellow to make a swarm of the giant-sized locusts someday. It would be incredible to see them covering entire buildings, nibbling away at our human-made hives.