Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Insect Debacle of 1995


Among the many high school science projects, the insect collection will always stand out in my mind.  During class we were given glass jars, fingernail polish remover, cotton balls, pins and a shoe box—mission to trap, gas, pin, and label.   Everyone proceeded with the project until we each had 20 insects neatly arranged and identified.  The following day, however, to everyone’s horror we each had 20 writhing and wriggling insects on pins.  Despite the fact that the class was totally traumatized, the teacher, Mr. Flanagan, laughed and insisted on grading the projects first, before letting us kill the insects in a humane way.  I suspect he had been huffing the fingernail polish. 

Later in life I read, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.  In this journalistic, yet poetic book she contemplates life and nature while exploring her home range of Tinker Creek in Virginia.  Dillard describes a similar situation to my own insect debacle, "I used to kill insects with carbon tetrachloride—cleaning fluid vapor—and pin them in cigar boxes, labeled, in neat rows. That was man years ago: I quit when one day I opened a cigar box lid and saw a carrion beetle, staked down high between its wing covers, trying to crawl, swimming on its pin.  It was dancing with its own shadow, untouching, and had been for days.”  Think this sort of shadow is something many have experienced—wriggling on pins, mutilated.

These memories resurface from time to time when a grasshopper or butterfly crosses my path--An act where one is trying to create something fascinating or beautiful but discovering the brutality that underlies it. Other times it will be the botched or overdone face job so common out here in Los Angeles or tuning into the news and learning about the garment factory fires in Bangladesh.

I started making collection sketches recently.  These are of plucked katydid wings combined with arms.

Plucked wings, sketchbook experiments, 2013

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