March 10, 2023
Remnant

I followed the buzz last Saturday and attended the opening of Austin artist Shawn Smith‘s “Ommatidium” exhibition at grayDUCK Gallery. I’ve followed Shawn’s work with interest for years. For one thing, he and his wife, Ann, are neighbors and friends of ours, and sometimes I get a sneak peek of new work in his studio. For another, his focus on the complicated — and often digitally filtered — human perception of nature is fascinating.

Cathedral

Shawn is known for his 3D pixilated wooden sculptures of animals — often astonishingly life-sized. For “Ommatidium,” he diverges from his usual style to create 2D artworks, fanciful insect sculptures, a flickering light installation, and even a stained-glass sculpture of an Australian termite mound (pictured above). It’s a terrific show — thought-provoking, slyly humorous, and oddly beautiful. Here’s the official description:

“Ommatidium explores our complicated relationship with the insect world. The show investigates the darkly humorous marketing of chemical agents to safely annihilate, the extreme championing of aesthetically pleasing and useful insects over all others, the strangely macabre methods of measuring insect population density, and the overlooked beauty of their complex architecture. Ommatidium refers to the compound eye structure that insects use to view the world. With this exhibition, artist Shawn Smith uses this idea of complex vision to encourage viewers to overcome their innate fear and disgust of insects and see them through a different lens.”

MAD

Watch the Red Queen run, and see a secret message revealed in this 55-second video of MAD. The Red Queen Effect, one of the concepts at play here, is a hypothesis about evolutionary biology, named after a character in Alice in Wonderland. The concept of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, will be familiar to anyone who lived through the Cold War.

Flit Gun

A flit gun, an old-style pesticide sprayer, greets you at the door of the gallery. A bird’s head is fused to the sprayer — one of the unintended victims of indiscriminate insecticide use, which poisons the food supply of many other animals.

“Kills Pests Dead,” it reads. And more!

Buzzwords

Buzzwords, a gigantic collage of cheery insecticide advertisements, hangs on one wall of the gallery. Many of these made me laugh out loud, or groan in disbelief. The ad at top left (above) proclaims, “DDT is good for me-e-e!”

“No Flies on Me Thanks to DDT,” reads another with a photo of a smiling baby.

NIMBY

Wasp-nest letters spell out NIMBY, an acronym for “Not In My Backyard.” The uncomfortable feeling you get, viewing this exhibition, is knowing you’ve (at least I have) used insecticides to get rid of pesky insects. Wasps building a nest by the back door? Sure. Fire ants? No hesitation. Agave snout-nosed weevils attacking my treasured (and expensive) big agaves and towering yuccas? I’m afraid so. Just this week I coated the interior of my mailbox with Raid when ants started building a nest in there. The guilt! But ants in the mail? Nope.

It’s easy to adore ladybugs, dragonflies, and butterflies, but it’s challenging to embrace all insects, especially destructive or dangerous ones. Shawn’s art recognizes that and asks us to examine our conflicted feelings about bugs. Isn’t there beauty and value here, it asks?

Prepping for the Void series

Of his Prepping for the Void series of insect sculptures, Shawn writes:

“In a typical summer month, 6 billion insects fly over your head. Wind and air currents disperse insects to great distances. Since 1926, scientists have been using airplanes to collect insects as high as 19,000 feet. For this series, I imagined creating space suits to help the insects survive their journey.”

Invisible Cities: Weaver Ant Nest

Pixilated collages of insect “homes” — chrysalises, termite mounds, and ant nests — make up the Invisible Cities series. Shawn’s wife, Ann Berman, collaborated on these intriguing artworks, each of which is collaged from “books of things that humans value: gold, fine art, rare orchids, and golf courses.” Weaver Ant Nest (above) was pieced together from photos of golf courses.

Kaleidoscope in Decline

A caterpillar-shaped, 3D wall sculpture of monarch butterflies is called Kaleidoscope in Decline. “The overall shape represents a graph of the declining monarch butterfly population from 1993 to 2017.”

Remnant

A striking — and squirm-inducing to those with trypophobia — 3D piece called Remnant features a photograph of the artist’s face molded to a found paper wasp nest. Shawn writes:

“Paper wasps use their nests to rear their young. At the end of the season, they leave the nest and never return. I was fascinated that so much labor goes into creating, maintaining, and defending such an intricate architectural structure, only to be abandoned. Paper wasps use facial recognition to identify the members of their hive….I transfigure[d] my portrait by inserting it into a wasp nest. I wanted to identify myself as something in nature not outside of it.”

Artist Shawn Smith

Well done, Shawn (and Ann)! If you’re in Austin, put on your virtual compound eyes and go see “Ommatidium” at grayDUCK Gallery. It runs through April 16, 2023. And if you want to meet Shawn, he’s giving an artist’s talk on April 1st at 2 pm.

I welcome your comments. Please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward this email to you, and you want to subscribe? Click here to get Digging delivered directly to your inbox!

__________________________

Digging Deeper

Shop for native Texas plants at the Wildflower Center’s spring Native Plant Sale. Held on Fridays through Sundays, March 24 to May 7, from 9 am to 1 pm. The first weekend is just for Wildflower Center members, so join to enjoy this perk, plus get free admission all year and more.

Experience the Surreal Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden, an enchanting neon-art display throughout the gardens, with food and drink, music and dancing, surreal performers, and interactive art sculptures. Surreal costumes encouraged! 25% of event proceeds benefit the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy. Runs April 6 (VIP Night), April 7-8, and April 13-15, from 6:30 pm to 11 pm.

Tour 9 designer landscapes on the 2023 Austin Outdoor Living Tour on May 6. Designers and builders will be on hand to answer your questions. Cost is $33.85 for adults and $17.85 for kids aged 12 to 17. For safety, no one under 12 years of age except for carried infants.

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. Season 7 starts in August. Stay tuned for the lineup!

All material (C) 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

The post A bug’s eye view: Shawn Smith’s Ommatidium exhibition appeared first on Digging.

Artist Shawn Smith’s “Ommatidium” exhibition at grayDUCK Gallery explores our complicated relationship with the insect world…. Read More
The post A bug’s eye view: Shawn Smith’s Ommatidium exhibition appeared first on Digging.Read MoreDigging

March 10, 2023

Remnant

I followed the buzz last Saturday and attended the opening of Austin artist Shawn Smith‘s “Ommatidium” exhibition at grayDUCK Gallery. I’ve followed Shawn’s work with interest for years. For one thing, he and his wife, Ann, are neighbors and friends of ours, and sometimes I get a sneak peek of new work in his studio. For another, his focus on the complicated — and often digitally filtered — human perception of nature is fascinating.

Cathedral

Shawn is known for his 3D pixilated wooden sculptures of animals — often astonishingly life-sized. For “Ommatidium,” he diverges from his usual style to create 2D artworks, fanciful insect sculptures, a flickering light installation, and even a stained-glass sculpture of an Australian termite mound (pictured above). It’s a terrific show — thought-provoking, slyly humorous, and oddly beautiful. Here’s the official description:

“Ommatidium explores our complicated relationship with the insect world. The show investigates the darkly humorous marketing of chemical agents to safely annihilate, the extreme championing of aesthetically pleasing and useful insects over all others, the strangely macabre methods of measuring insect population density, and the overlooked beauty of their complex architecture. Ommatidium refers to the compound eye structure that insects use to view the world. With this exhibition, artist Shawn Smith uses this idea of complex vision to encourage viewers to overcome their innate fear and disgust of insects and see them through a different lens.”

MAD

Watch the Red Queen run, and see a secret message revealed in this 55-second video of MAD. The Red Queen Effect, one of the concepts at play here, is a hypothesis about evolutionary biology, named after a character in Alice in Wonderland. The concept of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, will be familiar to anyone who lived through the Cold War.

Flit Gun

A flit gun, an old-style pesticide sprayer, greets you at the door of the gallery. A bird’s head is fused to the sprayer — one of the unintended victims of indiscriminate insecticide use, which poisons the food supply of many other animals.

“Kills Pests Dead,” it reads. And more!

Buzzwords

Buzzwords, a gigantic collage of cheery insecticide advertisements, hangs on one wall of the gallery. Many of these made me laugh out loud, or groan in disbelief. The ad at top left (above) proclaims, “DDT is good for me-e-e!”

“No Flies on Me Thanks to DDT,” reads another with a photo of a smiling baby.

NIMBY

Wasp-nest letters spell out NIMBY, an acronym for “Not In My Backyard.” The uncomfortable feeling you get, viewing this exhibition, is knowing you’ve (at least I have) used insecticides to get rid of pesky insects. Wasps building a nest by the back door? Sure. Fire ants? No hesitation. Agave snout-nosed weevils attacking my treasured (and expensive) big agaves and towering yuccas? I’m afraid so. Just this week I coated the interior of my mailbox with Raid when ants started building a nest in there. The guilt! But ants in the mail? Nope.

It’s easy to adore ladybugs, dragonflies, and butterflies, but it’s challenging to embrace all insects, especially destructive or dangerous ones. Shawn’s art recognizes that and asks us to examine our conflicted feelings about bugs. Isn’t there beauty and value here, it asks?

Prepping for the Void series

Of his Prepping for the Void series of insect sculptures, Shawn writes:

“In a typical summer month, 6 billion insects fly over your head. Wind and air currents disperse insects to great distances. Since 1926, scientists have been using airplanes to collect insects as high as 19,000 feet. For this series, I imagined creating space suits to help the insects survive their journey.”

Invisible Cities: Weaver Ant Nest

Pixilated collages of insect “homes” — chrysalises, termite mounds, and ant nests — make up the Invisible Cities series. Shawn’s wife, Ann Berman, collaborated on these intriguing artworks, each of which is collaged from “books of things that humans value: gold, fine art, rare orchids, and golf courses.” Weaver Ant Nest (above) was pieced together from photos of golf courses.

Kaleidoscope in Decline

A caterpillar-shaped, 3D wall sculpture of monarch butterflies is called Kaleidoscope in Decline. “The overall shape represents a graph of the declining monarch butterfly population from 1993 to 2017.”

Remnant

A striking — and squirm-inducing to those with trypophobia — 3D piece called Remnant features a photograph of the artist’s face molded to a found paper wasp nest. Shawn writes:

“Paper wasps use their nests to rear their young. At the end of the season, they leave the nest and never return. I was fascinated that so much labor goes into creating, maintaining, and defending such an intricate architectural structure, only to be abandoned. Paper wasps use facial recognition to identify the members of their hive….I transfigure[d] my portrait by inserting it into a wasp nest. I wanted to identify myself as something in nature not outside of it.”

Artist Shawn Smith

Well done, Shawn (and Ann)! If you’re in Austin, put on your virtual compound eyes and go see “Ommatidium” at grayDUCK Gallery. It runs through April 16, 2023. And if you want to meet Shawn, he’s giving an artist’s talk on April 1st at 2 pm.

I welcome your comments. Please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward this email to you, and you want to subscribe? Click here to get Digging delivered directly to your inbox!

__________________________

Shop for native Texas plants at the Wildflower Center’s spring Native Plant Sale. Held on Fridays through Sundays, March 24 to May 7, from 9 am to 1 pm. The first weekend is just for Wildflower Center members, so join to enjoy this perk, plus get free admission all year and more.

Experience the Surreal Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden, an enchanting neon-art display throughout the gardens, with food and drink, music and dancing, surreal performers, and interactive art sculptures. Surreal costumes encouraged! 25% of event proceeds benefit the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy. Runs April 6 (VIP Night), April 7-8, and April 13-15, from 6:30 pm to 11 pm.

Tour 9 designer landscapes on the 2023 Austin Outdoor Living Tour on May 6. Designers and builders will be on hand to answer your questions. Cost is $33.85 for adults and $17.85 for kids aged 12 to 17. For safety, no one under 12 years of age except for carried infants.

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. Season 7 starts in August. Stay tuned for the lineup!

All material (C) 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *