For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Science & Technology

Can Insects Be Art? In Exhibit Coming to the Academy, They Are

July 9, 2014

For some people, the idea of playing with insects may not sound too appealing. But for Christopher Marley, insects are a vibrant artistic medium. Similarly, scientists see a special beauty in these often misunderstood creatures. A new exhibit opening this summer at the Academy of Natural Sciences brings together the art and science of insects for a closer inspection.

“Pinned: Insect Art, Insect Science,” opening Aug. 9, features Marley’s dazzling mosaics alongside the Academy’s own scientific specimen displays, which also can be considered artworks, though their use is purely functional. Marley’s creative designs reveal the masterfully balanced design of nature itself.

They also reflect traditional insect collections of natural history institutions such as the Academy. The scientific specimen displays are a tiny portion of the Academy’s Entomology Collection of nearly 4 million research specimens. These insects are used by researchers around the world to help solve problems involving diseases, agriculture, pollution and climate change. “Pinned” will show the methods scientists use to preserve and store insects, of which there are more species than any other group of organisms.

Despite the inspired artistry and beauty of his work, Marley, who lives in Oregon, wasn’t always so taken with bugs. He has described them as “ugly creatures.” But once he looked at them from a designer’s perspective, he saw their unique utilitarian beauty. So profound was his new appreciation that he felt the need to share it.

“In order to bring others to this alternate view, I needed to take these enigmatic creatures as far as possible out of their natural context, where I had studiously avoided them for so many years,” Marley said.

The goal of Marley’s work is to create a balance between his design and nature’s design. When the insects are arranged purposefully, it removes them from nature in a way that they can be viewed more objectively. At the same time, they are still natural objects. Marley’s wish is to illustrate and honor the luminous beauty of the once-living creatures that sometimes get a bad rap.

“The various color schemes and divergent textures in my work are essential to showcasing the broad range of radical variety in the insect world,” Marley said.

“Pinned” will be on view in the Art of Science Gallery through Nov. 9, and it will be free with regular museum admission. The exhibit coincides with the museum’s annual Bug Fest, a festival featuring hundreds of live insects, insect cooking and tastings, games, and other activities. Bug Fest will take place Aug. 9 and 10.