The exhibit, Insect Virtue, at The Parachute Factory on 720 Bryon Avenue offers its viewers – what might seem at first glance – a radically new experience, engulfing them in the sound of forest critters and the smell of dirt. Throughout the gallery paths of earth direct visitors around the gallery, where trees, long-stemmed plants, and logs are overtaken by fungi. Sprawling on top of a one large dirt patch in the center of the room, a giant animatronic creature sways its head back and forth – as if to inspect the curious faces staring at it.
What these two collaborating artists, Samantha Hensley and Lizz Hamilton, actually recreate is an environment familiar to its audience, while captivating our imagination with the strangest potentiality. “The work is basically about this weird creature falling down to earth and then forgetting who he is, and since the only thing around him are bugs he begins to believe and form into a bug himself,” Hensley explains. Their artist statement offers a romantic tale, describing this “divine creature” having fallen to Earth and then morphing into a bug like form due to its fascination with the simple life of insects. As the statement reads:
Moths spin fluid into silken strands, ants enter into putrid flesh, mosquitoes gorge themselves on blood… Seeing this, his mantle radiated with a strange and gentle love for them.
Using animatronic parts from Christmas deer decorations, felt, wire, and other materials, Hensley constructs this white fluffy yet disturbing creature. The swaying motion of its head and the stationary clear white wings on its back show how it is still in the process of evolving into another life form. The interactive installation and the moving sculpture create an emotional connection between the audience and the work. “I wanted people to understand the piece through their feelings for it,” Hensley describes. The work is beautiful yet disconcerting—forcing the audience to confront something that is unfamiliar and at the same time comforting, as the main creature is designed to be a humble guardian.
While Hensley’s creature sits center stage, Hamilton’s artistic use of organic material (the plants and dirt) and audio creates a familiar yet mystical atmosphere. Hamilton describes her work as a way to explore what she calls “bodily relationships with the divine, ritual, and otherworldly.” The audience finds itself peering with fascination and intrigue at dirt, cobwebs, and fungi covered logs that aren’t generally understood as beautiful or divine. Ever changing and adapting, the creature’s curiosity and awe for this world seems to reflect an underlining truth about human nature.
As humans, we enter this world in a form described as pure, innocent, and flawless. As we grow, we evolve to fit into new environments, situations, and circumstances. We learn to find our gifts and our flaws. Some people will find us extraordinary, while others will not. When we find love, however, another person sees the rare beauty that others cannot. The work of Lizz Hamilton and Samantha Hensley is a metaphor for this process.
Visitors are sure to find both wonderment and a little comfort in Hensley and Hamilton’s unusual insect world. The exhibit is on view until September 29th and will be open to the public during gallery hours on Wednesdays-Fridays from 5-8pm and Saturday from 12-3 pm at 720 Byron Ave, Lexington, KY, 40505.