Tonight I discovered that a couple of boxes of art supplies and art objects in my
studio spare bedroom art room were infested with the carcasses of many, many small larvae-type bugs. EW. I thoroughly grossed myself out picking thru to see what was salvageable. Unfortunately, a hand-felted wall hanging, a felted rock made from my friend’s dog’s fur, and possibly some wooden boxes were among the objects that were beyond repair. Bugs eat natural fibers, who knew?
This is actually not the first time I’ve had an art bug problem. Let me recount for you the times I should have learned my lesson.
1. Honey is Sweet
In the first assignment of the semester for Fiber Arts class, our professor gave us three yards of muslin and instructions to use ONE other material to create a sculpture. I cut my muslin into 5″ squares and chose honey as my supplementary material, stacking the fabric one piece at a time like a honey-muslin lasagna. It turned out pretty awesome, but then the honey dripped onto the floor and the local ant population moved in.
2. Peter Paul Reubens and The Gathering of The Beetles
Later in the Fiber Arts class, our professor took us to see the Peter Paul Reubens cartoons at the Ringling Museum and asked us to recreate an aspect of the paintings out of fiber materials. I chose Gathering of The Manna, recreating the burlap bag held by the crouching figure at the bottom. My twist, though, (and I can’t believe I did this) was to fill the bag with manure that I dug out of the New College compost pile. Ahem. Do you know what lives inside manure that has been decomposing in a compost pile? Lots and lots of beetles and creepy-crawlies.
3. Regina and the Resin
Another artist who shared my studio space was doing awesome casting work with resin and soaps, embedding things like hair and My Little Pony parts. She had a bunch of pieces curing — or so I thought — near the sink in a tupperware container, so I lifted the lid to take a peek. The objects which had not fully embedded in the resin this time were chicken hearts. Upon exposure to light and air, squirmy little white creatures (I will not say the name) that feast on rotting, non-fully embedded organic matter swarmed out. SHUDDER.
4. Frog Tonics
I did a whole series of small bottles with linocut labels. They were filled with various odd objects such as teeth, wool, hair, and well, a frog skeleton I found in the library parking lot. Let’s just say there is a reason that people bleach bones before making art out of them. Luckily, this issue was well-contained in the bottle, and the bottle is now well-interred in a landfill somewhere.
5. You’re Bringing What in Here??
In my New College senior thesis show, I used hay bales in lieu of sculpture stands to display my work. I remember Gail, my advisor with whom I had a love/hate relationship, questioning me with a frown. “You’re bringing what in here??” she asked. Three weeks later, I was battling ant colonies and beetles as I cleaned up. (Oh and yes, that is a giant horse hide shown below).
As much as I hate to admit it, Gail’s and others’ concerns about the materials I used in my art were warranted, and not just from a bug perspective although that is certainly an issue as I discovered today. I have multimedia pieces where I used wood glue to attach materials to the surface, and the glue has yellowed in an unpleasant way. I have paintings that incorporate latex rubber which is now dry and cracking. My encaustic pieces have suffered a good deal of damage over the years being moved from one house to another, and while some are reparable, others are not. And some have clouded due to sun exposure.
I don’t know that I would have done it differently, entirely. I embrace the idea that art, like life, is temporary and fleeting and prone to decay. Joseph Beuys, who is my most inspirational artist of all time, talked about how his sculptures are not fixed and finished such that “everything is in a state of change”. I’m not interested in having a legacy as an artist (so, like, the stuff doesn’t have to hold up until 2179 or anything). Part of the reason I am no longer much of a practicing artist is that I can’t bear to keep bringing things into the world and to become responsible for where they go and how they last. But, in some small way I want to acknowledge that Gail was right, and that she was not just picking on me or being mean like I thought at the time. I made that felt piece with my hands, first carding the raw wool for hours and hours and then felting it on the driveway outside the sculpture studio with a hose and a lot of Dr. Bronners soap. It had to stop existing at some point, but at the hand (mouths) of bugs? That just kind of sucks.