Stridulation Friday

So what’s your most favorite song about Trilobites? Come, come, you must have at least one! Mine is by Robyn Hitchcock. He doesn’t actually sing the song until 2+ minutes in, but honestly it’s the elaborate pre-explanation he gives that makes me heart this song even more.

Happy Friday, all you Gloria Swansons! z end


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Insect Fashion


I haven’t been able to find out who was responsible for creating the giant insects for Uniqlo‘s fashion advertisements announcing their new Uniqlo Undercover line by Jun Takahashi, but I am in love with them. Well, the insects, that is. Though the humans are nicely attired, they’re not nearly as insect-inspired. I’d trade any of those fine threads for a chance to jam with Bass-Playing Bee!

Though this looks like a good idea, think twice before taking your lepidopteran lover to the opera- those bright stage lights might prove irresistible!

UPDATE: The set designer is Rhea Thierstein. There’s a swell bio of her on Papermag about her and her obsession with insects!

z end

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The Metal Mantids of Geoffrey Haberman

Photographer and artist Goeffrey Haberman creates these articulated mantids by hand using only brass bar stock. He’s made a small army of these species-specific sculptures over the years, and they’re mandible-droppingly intricate and expressive. Like the real mantids that inspired them, they are full of arresting character. The wings are etched with acid, but otherwise made only with hand tools like fret saws and files. Here’s just a few from his flickr site. I could stare at them all day.

Idolomantis diabolica adult male

Blepharopsis mendica nymph

Schizocephala bicornis adult

Schizocephala bicornis adult

Choerododis rhombifolia adult

Solygia sulcatifrons adult male

Phyllovates chlorophea nymph

Phyllovates chlorophea nymph

Idolomorpha lateralis adult male

Solygia sulcatifrons adult male

*swoon* z end

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Feelers and Fire

Gary Amaro, Surreal World Of Insects

The amazingly talented Gary Amaro was kind enough to scan for me this beautiful page from his sketchbook of the gathering outside the Surreal World of Insects show in Berkeley, CA.  Although the giant metal insects have gone back home, the rest of the show is at Terraria for a few weeks more, go take a look!  Thanks, Gary! z end

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Creeping Countertops

The above coffee tables (and the chandelier clutching at the ceiling) are just a small part of woodworker Michael Wilson‘s beautifully biomorphic collection, but they’re of course my favorites. My heart simply moults for home décor that looks like it’s on the verge of furtively crawling away into the shadows. The abstract legginess of Wilson’s work also calls to mind one of the most well-known giant-spider creators, Louise Bourgeois. Interestingly, both sculptors have also employed varyingly-curled and curved tarsi, making the colossal arachnids seem light and tenative, instead of just ready to pounce upon human-sized prey. z end

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The Buzz of the Real in the Garden of Mouthings

High in the Berkeley Hills, the UC Botanical Garden has entreated a collection of artists, poets, and architects to create engaging and thought-provoking works, and situate them amidst its twisting trails. The show Natural Discourse will be on display from now until January 20th, and if the idea of wandering though botanical biomes hunting out sequestered sculptures appeals to you, then I heartily recommend it! The artworks are greatly varied and yet carefully curated to complement the scientific and educational goals of a university. Ever since the Presidio Habitats show, I’ve been longing for a good outdoors-artwork show, and so I visited the Gardens for opening weekend with some plant-obsessed friends.

Of course any outdoor botanically-themed art show worth its thylakoids must invariably mention invertebrates, and there was quite a few to choose from. Gail Wight has a series of spider-web patterns burned into vellum. The webs are based on experiments carried out by Peter Witt on the effects of psychotropic drugs on spiders. Displayed inside arid  hothouses, the webs seemed to sparkle due to the tiny holes that burned through.

Gail Wight, “marijuana” 2011

Outside one of the tropical hothouses, Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib contributed an insect-filled video piece that played on two greenery-encrusted screens. Directly opposite, the UCBG glass-wall honeybee hive vibrated with waggle-dancing workers. The work was made with a thermal-imaging camera, turning garden footage into an unearthly bee vision panorama. Sadly their work suffers the fate of many outdoor video installations; fighting sunlight and furious apiary activity, an LCD screen cannot compare to the buzz of the real.

Perhaps Hironaka & Suib’s work would have been more effective if projected in a darkened environment.  “SOL Grotto”, by Ronald Rael & Virginia San Fratello, was a delightful meditation on perception. Situated above Strawberry Creek, the dark wooden bunker is pierced with hundreds of glass pipes cozened from local ex-company Solyndra. Tiny snippets of the world outside can be discerned through the tubes, making one feel like they’re inside the compound eye of an insect.

Ronald Rael & Virginia San Fratello, “SOL Grotto”, 2012

When you travel with insect and plant enthusiasts, your trek is bound to be slow going. As we inched out way up the hillside and paused to look at every blossom, equal time was given to the incredible diversity of pollinators present- honeybees, flower flies, wasps, beetles, bugs, and countless native bees! And crowning the flower beds around us was a wonderful structure by landscape architect Shirley Watts, a shrine to bees of all kinds, called “Mouthings”.

Shirley Watts, “Mouthings”, 2009

Shirley Watts, “Mouthings”, 2009

Shirley Watts, “Mouthings”, 2009

Surrounding the flowing honeycomb-like metal structures are concrete hexagon stumps, and portraits of California’s native bees by Rollin Coville and Gordon Frankie, along with informative text. A poem by Sylvia Plath, ‘The Beekeeper’s Daughter’ is written in ceramic glaze on a large table. Even though Watts’ “Mouthings” is not technically part of the Natural Discourse show, it’s only there temporarily, so check it out (along with all the other great plant-related art) if you can! z end



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The Insect Art of Beth Cavener Stichter

My latest issue of Sculpture magazine came in the mail yesterday, the cover displaying the powerfully unsettling work of Beth Cavener Stichter. Her focus for many years have been on vertebrate animals; rabbits, goats and jackals whose exaggerated stances and humanlike expressions elicit strong emotional responses. But amongst her early ceramics are hidden these wonderful and amusing invertebrates.

Beth Cavener Stichter, “Ananse’s Jar”, 1998

Beth Cavener Stichter, “Khepera”, 2000

z end

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The Surreal World of Insects

Last Saturday’s opening of The Surreal World of Insects at Terraria was a total hit. More than a simple wine-and-cheese affair, it became a huge party of insect artists and natural history enthusiasts that lasted long into the night! The show will be up for at three more weeks, and if you’re near Berkeley, it’s worth a visit.

Terraria Looking Down

Terraria’s Storefront. Photo by Pat Hollingsworth

The gallery space itself is something of an insect artwork. Terraria boasts a stunning  giant bee-filled mural by Ana Bonfili, that pulls in the natural light and gives context to the riot of natural goods and terrarium-making supplies that line the store. Handcrafted wooden hexagons made by owner Olivia Wright and her fiance Kevin Bento cluster about the walls, making Terraria a welcoming hive for the visiting artworks.

A series of serene insect illustrations by museum exhibit designer Tami Stewart line the staircase, giving way to two large photo exhibits above. Nature photographer Becky Jaffe coaxes character out of her subjects, catching orthopterans and mantids in moments of contemplation. Her photos are accompanied by appreciative insect poetry as well as stories from her travels. Turning up the magnification are Pat Hollingsworth’s intimate macro photos of butterfly wings and crane flies, as well as carnivorous plants gorged on insect carcasses.

Surreal World of Insects show

Antennae everywhere. Photo by Pat Hollingsworth

Sharing a table with Colleen Paz’s engaging push-button moth bottles are a series of fantastic specimens from curiosity cabineteer Danielle Schlunegger.  Beeswax, dried plants and scraps of old text are given new life under her glass domes, congealing into imaginary insects and bizarre larvae. Andrew Werby‘s digitally-crafted wood carvings suggest small invertebrate totems, or perhaps relics of an locust-worshipping cult long vanished.

Along with three of her oil paintings, Kristen Rieke‘s great paper-wasp nest hung ominously above the room. More than a few attendees eyed it with suspicion, as if some papercraft hornets might plume forth at any moment. And of course high overhead were some of my cardboard and plaster masks, musings of how other ancient cultures would have represented the microscopic world, were they to have had access to high-powered lenses.

surreal world of insects

Worshipping the Mighty Mantis! Photo by Pat Hollingsworth

Outside in the back yard space Olivia placed my giant bronze insect LEG near the entrance, which is pretty threatening at nearly five feet in height. But it was nothing compared to Todd Cox’s Praying with Fire, a toweringly huge and intricate steel mantis sculpture made of custom-welded steel and neon, with jets of propane-fueled fire in place of antennae! FAWOOSH!

My great green grasshopper cart made an appearance too, full of cardboard antennae for people to wear or purchase. Olivia had even set up a photo booth so people could get their portrait taken with their new sensory appendages. As the sky darkened, a projector played Microcosmos on a wall while folks waggled their antennae, snacking on cupcakes arranged like caterpillars. The film is only an hour long, but by popular demand it played repeatedly for the insect-loving crowd, as folks settled into outdoor couches and warmed themselves by the heat of the great flaming mantis, their eyes lit up by the gouts of propane light like so many glittering compound eyes. z end

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Insect Art In The East Bay

There’s an Insect Art Show happening right on my doorstep, and what’s more, I’ve been invited to take part!

On Saturday, June 23, Terraria (a new boutique terrarium art store) will host The Surreal World of Insects, featuring a great collection of insect-themed photographs, paintings, and sculptures from distinguished creators such as Becky Jaffe, Pat Hollingsworth, Tami Stewart, Steev Odell, Danielle Schlunegger, Andrew Werby, Colleen Paz, Kristin Rieke, and Todd Cox.

I’m excited and honored to exhibit a few of my masks, my giant bronze insect leg, and the Grasshopper cart, which will be laden with verminous antennae made just for the event.

Terraria is located at 1757 Alcatraz Ave in Berkeley, and the opening for the show will be from 6pm to 10pm, so join me in a celebration of local insect art! z end

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Three Of A Kind

And now, three vehicles, all named after beetles!

1. The Stout Scarab

First off, the car of my dreams- the 1936 Stout Scarab. Yes, there’s more than one car named after an insect, and the Stout Scarab is a beaut!

Hoping to eliminate wasted space, American inventor William Stout envisioned a “mobile office”, with a roomy interior, swiveling seats, foldout tables, all made possible by a rear-mounted engine and other innovations brought in from his aviation background.

Dig that rattan ceiling

Looking very much like an art deco observation train car, and a spiffy winged scarab motif, plainly visible on the front of the car, as well as the steering wheel.

Best photo of the steering wheel I could find

Even though today it is considered an artistic masterpiece of forward engineering, the car was considered ugly at the time, and had a steep price for Depression-era pocketbooks. Only nine of these magnificent cars were ever made, and of those only 5 exist today.

2. The Coléoptère

In the late 1950s, engineers were trying out all sorts of vertical-take-off-and-landing aircraft, for military and commercial use. Enter the French Coléoptère, an experimental aircraft designed to to rocket up, fly horizontal, then land vertically again.

“With a full annular wing, an enclosed cockpit, and a seat that tilted forward to allow the pilot a nearly upright position during hover, the Coléoptère soon attained celebrity status. Catherinettes —French bachelorettes who annually advertised their single status by wearing eccentric hats— donned papier-mâché Coléoptères.”

Sadly I cannot track down any images of these chapeaux d’insectes the young ladies wore. But at least I can find more photos of the short-winged (and short-lived) Coléoptère. Though innovative, like many coleopterans it did not last the year.

After eight test-flights, the craft started oscillating wildly on its ninth, and spun out of control. Before it crashed the pilot managed to eject, but was badly injured, and the program was scrapped.

The Smithsonian has a nicely detailed article here.

3. The Volkswagen Käfer

Known officially as the “Type 1“,  the beloved Volkswagen Beetle is the success story of these three beetle-themed vehicles, with production really taking off after WWII. In fact the Beetle, (“Käfer” in German) is one of the most successful vehicle models of all time, and recognized worldwide. So though I love these beetle cars dearly, there’s not much new to share. So instead here is German Techno band Welle:Erdball singing about the joys of driving around in a VW beetle, expressing joy as only a German Techno band can. z end

car art previously: Your Mandible Expectations

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