Bugs: beauty and danger

14 March – 13 September 2020 (closed until further notice because of big rival bug: Corona Virus, but extended to stay open till later in the year)

Nicola Bealing, Arno van Berge Henegouwen, Jeroen Eisinga, Claudia Fährenkemper, Sarah Gillespie, Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, Aurora Sciabarra, Alison Turnbull.

Stop Press: read this great review in the Spectator 14.03.20, by Mark Cocker: ‘Mother Nature is Finally Getting the Art she Deserveshttps://www.spectator.co.uk/writer/mark-cocker

GroundWork gallery’s latest exhibition has been one of the hardest to put together and the most difficult to name. It is about insects, seen through visual art. But nothing about insects is straightforward. For a start, there are so many different kinds – winged, crawling, hard or soft-bodied, nocturnal or diurnal, invisible, harmful, or beneficial. There is a lot that even specialists don’t know about their survival, their habits, or even the extent of our interdependence with them. As the public our feelings are mixed – we love and fear insects – and they are so often regarded as pests. 

Bugs, beauty and danger addresses our complex relationships with some of the tiny creatures without which the earth would not survive. It celebrates the power of insects at a time of increasing and deep threat to many common species. Eight international artists are showing work about bees, beetles, butterflies and moths, through drawings, paintings, film, etchings, installation, to explore some of their intricacy and wonder, but also some of the fears we experience when encountering them. We are also collaborating with the invertebrate conservation trust, Buglife to develop ideas and inspiration from the exhibition to improve the local environment for bugs. Here is an article in King’s Lynn’s Your Local Paper announcing our plans: https://www.yourlocalpaper.co.uk/2020/02/14/make-a-b-line-for-new-exhibition-and-project/

The effects of climate change, pollution, pesticides, and our unthinking destruction has meant that 40% of insect species are in decline and a third are endangered. Insects are going extinct 8 times more seriously than any mammals. This is very bad news indeed for the survival of all species. For bugs in all their variety create the earth’s infrastructure. They play an essential role in the chain of parasites which maintains the earth’s species balance. But also they have crucial relationships with soil, plants and animals, maintaining fertility and health. Beetles are good at adapting to different habitats, help in the decomposition of vegetation and keep down more harmful predators. Bees are among the best plant pollinators and without them, we would have few vegetables or fruits. Moths are also good pollinators as well as being a food source themselves for a wide variety of other animals. It is their caterpillars which are an important food source for birds. Migrating birds can time their arrival to coincide with the availability of specific moth caterpillars.

Images in Bugs, beauty and danger, explore the full range of experience, from being spectacular, alarming and scary, to  quiet and reflective, beautiful and delicate. The exhibition opens with Nicola Bealing’s large paintings of swarms of locusts and moths, immediately addressing one of our basic fears of the power of being engulphed. Swiss scientist-artist Cornelia Hess-Honegger’s precise drawings, conducted  over more than 30 years, reveal how bugs have suffered mutations from nuclear fall-out, and can give us early-warning about the deeper dangers we are facing. Sarah Gillespie has conducted careful research in her own back garden to capture the delicacy of moths to inform her incredibly detailed mezzotints. Alison Turnbull, working from a garden in Norfolk, observes moths, studying them closely, partly as a result of her long inspiration from entomologist and writer, Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977).

Aurora Sciabarra’s delicate bee swarm made from wax and latex is a tribute to the dwindling species, whereas Jeroen Eisinga’s award-winning film ‘Springtime’, shows a swarm of bees settling on his face and head, terrifyingly addressing some of his own deepest fears. Providing a culmination for the exhibition at the top of the building, Claudia Faehrenkemper’s ‘Imago’ series of micro-lens photographs, show us beetle faces as a series of armour-like, almost science-fiction portraits. 

Insects bug us – we fear their swarms, their stings, we are annoyed at the holes they make in our clothing, we scream at their shiny carapaces, we suffer the germs they can spread. But these fears also contribute to their death and disappearance, These artists help us, the public, to make more careful observation, to appreciate the ways of life of bugs in relation to ours.

About the artists

Nicola Bealing

Her work opens the exhibition, with large oil paintings from her series ‘Plagues and Swarms’, from 2014-15. These works address some of our greatest fears of being engulfed by insects, or our possessions eaten to shreds.

Nicola Bealing Hole in the Carpet, oil, 2014
©Nicola Bealing, A Hole in the Carpet, oil, 2014

Upstairs she is showing a painting ‘Long Journey’, which shows a phenomenon which has recently been discussed with some nostalgia, of many insects sticking to a car windscreen. Because of severe insect decline, this no longer happens and in general, plagues and swarms, in the UK at any rate, are rare. Nicola Bealing is based in Cornwall, where she has a studio at CAST. She was trained as an artist 1983-7 at Hertfordshire and at the Byam Shaw, London. A winner of numerous awards, her work is represented in public collections, including the British Museum, the Foundling Museum and the Jerwood Foundation and she is an Academician of the Royal West of England Academy. Nicola is represented by Matt’s Gallery, London.

Arno van Berge Henegouwen

Arno van Berge Henegouwen is a biologist and has worked in various museums, including Museon, the Hague.

His specialism is water and dung beetles, but he has also published on various popular science topics and, often together with his colleague Ruud Hisgen, has devised many temporary and permanent exhibitions in museums in Tilburg and The Hague. In the Museon they designed the renewed permanent exhibition ‘Your World My World’. He also developed the ‘Museonder’ for the Hoge Veluwe National Park in the Province of Gelderland, and renovated the Visitor Centre. He is passionate about education in relation to his scientific work on insects. Always a keen wildlife photographer himself, he brought the first, and then twenty-two following editions of the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ to The Hague.

Jeroen Eisinga

The award-winning film, Springtime (2009-11) will be on show  – a self-portrait of the artist being filmed while  a swarm of 250,000 bees settle on his head and shoulders. The film like many of his works, is quite harrowing, taking to extremes his confrontation of his own fears. 

©Jeroen Eisinga, still from Springtime.

Living in the Hague, Netherlands. Trained between 1993-2008 in art and film at Arnhem Academy of Fine Arts, the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam and the screenwriting department of the American Film Institute Conservatory, Los Angeles. Jeroen Eisinga has exhibited all over the world, won numerous awards, and has works in most of the major museum collections in the Netherlands. In November 2019 he won the Hague Art Prize, which includes a solo exhibition  at the Gemeentmuseum, the Hague, Netherlands, named after of his early film, The Social Ladder, and the publication of a book with the same title, about his body of work.

Claudia Fährenkemper

She shows a series of photo-micrographs – Insect Portraits – extreme and dramatic close-up views of the heads of beetles and flies. They address the combined qualities of beauty and grotesque.

©Claudia Fåhrenkemper ‘Imago’

Living in Dortmund, Germany. Claudia initially studied art and geography and then trained and practised as a teacher, before studying photography 1989-95, with Bernt Becher and Nan Hoover at Dusseldorf Academy of Art. In 2009 she was artist in residence at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, Kettering UK. For Jan-Feb 2020, she had a solo exhibition at the Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, who are now her world-wide representatives.

Sarah Gillespie

Sarah Gillespie is showing a body of 14 works, mezzotints, about moths, which have been the subjects of the artist’s careful study for a number of years.

Sarah is a committed environmentalist, keen for her work to raise awareness of the intricacy and beauty of the natural world and to address our troubled relationships with insects in more positive ways. Trained as an artist at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford, and in Paris in historical painting methods from 16th and 17th century. Sarah is known for her close observation, attention to detail and finish, and the perfectionism of her contemporary interpretations of traditional methods. She has exhibited widely in the UK and is an Academician with the Royal West of England Academy.  Sarah often shows her work with Beaux Arts Gallery in London.

Cornelia Hesse-Honegger

Cornelia works at the interface between art and science, testifying to the beauties of an increasingly endangered nature. Describing herself as a ‘science artist,’ Cornelia worked for 25 years, as a scientific illustrator for the scientific department of the Natural History Museum at the University of Zurich.   From 1969 onwards, she collected and painted true bugs Heteroptera.

Cicada found at Fukushima which has lost its colour as a result of suffering nuclear fallout

Since the catastrophe of Chernobyl in 1986 she has collected, studied and painted morphologically disturbed insects mostly true bugs, which she has found in the fallout areas of Chernobyl as well as in the proximity of nuclear installations. Based on her work, she is convinced that in places, where the radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, or normal working nuclear power plants hits ground, the vegetation is contaminated and insects like true bugs become to a certain degree morphologically disturbed. Based on her field studies, mostly in Switzerland, but also in many other locations including Sellafield in the UK, she concludes that normal working nuclear power plants as well as other nuclear installations are a terrible threat to nature and cause deformities on true bugs Heteroptera. Today she and independent scientists can prove that even the lowest amount of radiation can cause cancer, illnesses, mutations and deformations. She has published many studies highlighting this issue and her watercolours and prints are exhibited internationally at museums and galleries. In the UK her work was first recognised by Locus+ in Newcastle in 1996 http://www.locusplus.org.uk/artists/748~Cornelia+Hesse-Honegger

Aurora Sciabarra

Aurora Sciabarra is a visual artist whose practice spans the disciplines of painting, collages sculpture and installations.  She is of Italian origin, now based in Brighton and has previously shown with Onca Gallery, Brighton.

Aurora’s research is focused on the concepts of need and choices, consumption,  over-production of consumer goods and agency. Through her work she investigates to what extent human way of life can affect the environment.

“Given that we live in an era of mass extinction and rapid ecological changes, to reflect on the kind of life one lives appears to be as common as inevitable, as it appears inevitable to question the anthropocentric vision of the world.”

In a recent statement, she says:

“My work is based on a research interest in environmental studies and consumer culture. The concepts of need and choice, alongside with the exploitation of natural resources, change, exchange-of-value and conflict, are at the centre of the research which looks at the interaction between human and non-human dynamics and questions to what extent human being’s way of living will affect the earth. The constant consumption and production of goods, from one hand, and the depletion of natural resources on the other hand, creates a schizophrenic society, where ecological changes occur due to human beings’ insatiable activity of consuming and in doing so they also compromise the natural resources (soil, water, sea, forest etc.) they survive on……….My most recent works display unrelated realities joined together. More precisely, I connect man-made objects with the natural elements as I want to re-present to my viewer’ eyes the co-existence of opposite realms close to one another. In doing so I want to shine a light on the implications, as well as on the effect, of such closeness. The use of natural materials, such as beeswax, next to human-made ones (latex or chemical fertiliser etc.) is pivotal to stress the co-existence of the two realities. “

Alison Turnbull

Coming to Light, a new print about Norfolk moths, made by the artist for Bugs, Beauty and Danger

Born in Bogota, Colombia and living in London and occasionally in Norfolk. Alison is showing a new body of works, paintings and photographs about moths and butterflies, a subject which has intrigued her for many years.

Alison Turnbull, the Peppered Moth, Archival Pigment Print, 2016

Alison’s interest in entomology began with a study of the remarkable story of evolution, the Peppered Moth (often known as Darwin’s Moth), for a project in 2008 with the Natural History Museum for the Darwin Centenary. Her ability to study the creatures closely developed as she discovered benign moth trapping under the tutelage of Patrick Wildgust, curator at Shandy Hall in Yorkshire, where she had a residency in 2014. It has subequently taken her far and wide, in 2016 she travelled to the Pacific Rainforest, to Colombia, the country of her birth to study butterfly species, coding their visual information and transforming them into abstract pattern and composition. As a result of that trip, undertaken with Natural History Museum scientist, Blanca Huertas, she made an artistic study and field guide, published as Psyche, The Butterfly (obtainable from GroundWork in very limited numbers). Her discoveries there were also recorded in a wonderful radio programme in the series Pursuit of Beauty, for BBC Radio 4

Alison is an artist who transforms information from plans, charts, diagrams, blueprints into abstract paintings made vivid through colour and the worked surface. Trained as an artist between 1975-1981 at Bath Academy of Art, West Surrey College of Art and Design, and Academia Arjona, Madrid. She has won numerous awards, and has work in many public collections and exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions internationally. She is represented by Matt’s Gallery, London. https://www.mattsgallery.org/

©Alison Turnbull, Butterfly Barcode, 2018

Artist’s books

We are also featuring upstairs a small and lovely selection of artist’s books by Chris Ruston and Alexi Francis

Chris Ruston

Chris Ruston is an artist based in Southend, Essex. Her work explores issues around our changing climate, often combining interests in history and storytelling. She seeks to express more than her personal story connecting to wider issues and reaching out to broader aspects of life and the environment. Earth’s story is a constant thread through her work. She invites us to think about how the past, present and future come together. Initially Chris trained as a fine artist and has become known for her innovative approach to form and design of the artist’s book. https://www.chrisruston.com/

Of her work ‘Relic, 2020’ a tiny moth in a hand-painted slip case, illustrated above, (centre, top row), the artist says: ‘I used the general recognisable shape of a butterfly as a symbol rather than a particular species. The burnt edges suggest what we are loosing due to changes in climate and habitat. The use of a world index indicates this is a global issue rather than local.’

Alexi Francis

Alexi is an artist, illustrator and writer based in Brighton, Sussex. All of her work focuses on nature. As she says: “Exploring artistic things – painting, illustration, dance and any other medium, keeps me sane as does escaping anywhere wild.” Her ‘altered books’ are made by inserting hand coloured and cut images in the centre of real second-hand hardback books.

Of her ‘altered book’ The Butterfly Tree, top left, the artist says: ‘The illustration is a tribute to the Monarch Butterfly, which famously migrates between North American and Mexico. At the time this book was being made two butterfly wardens in Mexico were killed, it is believed, by men working for the loggers intent on destroying their forest habitat for profit.’ http://www.alexifrancisillustrations.co.uk/