Author Archives: michelebanks1

Art of Science: A Moth’s Brief Life in Art


Artist Elsabé Dixon grew up raising silkworms in cardboard boxes as a child in South Africa.  Now based in Virginia, Dixon has made her childhood hobby the source of her art, now on display in a unique residency and installation called LIVE/LIFE at Arlington’s Artisphere through February 22.

In the Artisphere studio, Dixon and helpers first constructed an environment for domesticated silkworms (Bombyx mori) to live out a life cycle – hatching from eggs to caterpillars, eating mulberry leaves, spinning cocoons, pupating, mating and dying – and then created sculpture using what was left behind, including twigs, empty cocoons, salt and even silkworm poop.

Detail from LIVE/LIFE, Elsabe Dixon, Mixed Media, 2014-15

Detail from LIVE/LIFE, Elsabe Dixon, Mixed Media, 2014-15

Dixon sees the life cycle of the Bombyx mori – the only truly domesticated insect in the world – as a means of investigating many aspects of life. The first and most obvious is the ephemeral and ever-changing nature of life, but the work examines many other issues, including our relationships with society, nature and the built environment.

There are no barriers between the insects and the audience here. Visitors in the earlier months of the residency were free to touch the caterpillars and the moths. When I visited earlier in January, the moths were all dead, but I was able to touch the silk cocoons left behind.

The sculptural installation that Dixon has constructed, first for the silkworms to live in and then using their products and detritus, is based on microscopic photographs of silkworm particles. Made from materials including rubber, cut-up cardboard paper towel  tubes, discarded silk cocoons, mulberry branches and, yes, piles of caterpillar poop, the installation looks organic, natural, and utterly at home in its modern-art setting.

LIVE/LIFE is open to the public Thursday and Friday evenings as well as Sunday afternoons, when the artist welcomes visitors to join in conversations with her and others in the field of art, medicine, engineering and food production.


Science Caturday: Yep

antigravity cat

The Art of Science: Transparency vs. Openness

David Spriggs, Profile, Type A - Briefcase, 2014, Glass

David Spriggs, Profile, Type A – Briefcase, 2014, Glass and Lucite

Transparency, both physical and metaphorical, is the central preoccupation of David Spriggs’ artwork. In his 2014 exhibition, Transparency Report, he took classic 21st-century images of personal possessions inside a security scanner and turned them into haunting and gorgeously crafted art.

Spriggs creates his artwork by layering  images in space – in this case by engraving multiple sheets of glass which are displayed in spaced layers in lucite cases to reveal the three-dimensional forms.  While we generally link the idea of transparency with openness and honesty, these works reveal a darker side of transparency, in which individuals give governments and corporations the right to literally see through us and our personal belongings.

Spriggs will further explore the intersection of optics and surveillance in an upcoming show entitled Prism – referring to both the optical apparatus and the NSA surveillance program – from January 29 to May 9 at Montreal’s Arsenal Contemporary Arts.

Installation view from David Spriggs, Transparency Report

Installation view from David Spriggs, Transparency Report

Science Caturday: Hot Take on Climate Change


Both the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released reports this week naming 2014 as the world’s warmest year. According to the NOAA report, the average temperature was up 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit over the 20th century average across all land and ocean surfaces.

NASA’s Gavin Schmidt said that greenhouse gases are responsible for the long-term warming trends, and that even if the entire world stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, it still would take many years to stall the rising temperatures. But we better get on it soon! It looks as though some kittehs are already beginning to melt.

The Art of Science: Adorable Art that Misses the Mark

Pandas on Tour in Hong Kong, summer 2014

Pandas on Tour in Hong Kong, summer 2014

I love pandas. I mean, I really love pandas. An analysis of my browser history over the year since Bao Bao was born would reveal an embarrassing amount of time logged onto the National Zoo’s PandaCam. When my daughter was very little, she was semi-seriously convinced that I loved Tai Shan more than I loved her. So you would think that I would also love Pandas on Tour, the long-running traveling exhibition by French sculptor Paulo Grangeon.

I don’t.

It’s not that it isn’t appealing. Grangeon’s papier-mâché pandas are completely adorable. If they came to DC, I would go see them, coo over them, and take pictures of them.

Here’s my problem with Grangeon’s Pandas – there are just too many of them.

Let me explain.

The Pandas on Tour project was launched in 2008 in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations as a simple way of showing just how endangered pandas are. The 1600 panda sculptures roughly correspond to the number of pandas that remain in the wild. Over the past 6 years, the pandas have traveled to more than 20 countries, where they’ve provided fabulous photo ops everywhere from the Eiffel Tower to the National Theater in Taipei.

Pandas at Taipei's National Theater

Pandas at Taipei’s National Theater

I mean, look at them in that theater, or on that square. They’re so cute, and there are soooooo many of them! That’s what I feel seriously muddies the intended conservation message of this project. It’s hard to feel like the panda is disappearing when you’re surrounded by an enormous crowd of pandas.

Maybe I’m a grouch, but I can’t help thinking that while the words about this exhibition say “Look how few pandas there are,” the pictures say, “Look how many pandas there are.”

And that seems like a bit of a #PandaFail