Elsabé Dixon literally brings her work to life with the help of 4,000 silkworm moths in a recent installation called Live/Life (September 2014-February 2015). These specially trained moths stay in their enclosures as they complete their lifecycle in front of visitors. Dixon crafted the insect’s home, using only recycled materials, with the help of gallery participants in the once notable Artisphere gallery in Rosslyn, Virginia. As a child, she raised silk worms in her native South Africa as an early sericulturalist (silk production and rearing), but dipped more deeply into the ancient history of silkworm agriculture as she prepared for this work.
As a live installation, viewers can see the worms in action, spinning their silks across a built environment. Imagine walking into a gallery where you can see, touch and hear the fluttering wings of moths dance around you as you peer into their lives uninhibited. Live/Life encourages gallery participants to see the instillation multiple times over; as time passes, the worms progress through their life cycle from pupae to worm, to cocoon to adult. Educational and artistic, the life of a silkworm moth enhances our understandings of the relationship between humans and nature, while highlighting the use of such a small creature in the production of silk textiles. Without these moths, we would not have one of our softest, most sensual fabrics.
Dixon explains Live/Life as follows:
“The Artist In Residency (A.I.R) entitled LIVE/LIFE will show an insect life cycle as an ephemeral gesture throughout a five month period. A simple gesture of revealing the life-cycle of insects (in particular the domesticated silkworm or Bombyx Mori) will allow visitors to the art center to “observe (and interact with) nature, inside a gallery setting”. The insects used for this project are silkworms, the only domesticated insect in the world. The silk worms are familiar with – and even rely on – human interaction. These insects are not behind vitrines and there are no barriers between the insects and the audience. Those visiting the A.I.R gallery can get as close to, or as far away from, the insects as they feel they want to. Through the interaction of people, insects, and a particular scene/live installation environment, those who come through the gallery doors could experience the renewed understanding of their personal expectations and associations with things inside that should be outside. The idea is to create a dynamic interpretation of LIFE CYCLE, which produces an activated live gallery space of simultaneous and collective sensory reception, while inspiring multi- disciplinary connectivity.”
The dichotomy between industrial and natural environments (one made by Dixon, the other by her collaborators, the silkworm moths), create an educational performance piece that acts as a medium between science and art. Drawing from the sciences of Biology, Entomology, Engineering and Agriculture, Dixon brings life to gallery spaces and inspires viewers to understand more the environments occupied by these unique insects.
∗ Featured image is a collage of photos taken by Erwin Thamm for Arlington Magazine.
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