Books and Arts

Nature 450, 1163 (20 December 2007) | doi:10.1038/4501163a; Published online 19 December 2007

Glitter bugs

Nick Thomas1

ARTS REVIEWED: The bioart sculptures of Mike Libby

 

 

A pile of dead insects and an assortment of disassembled antique-watch mechanisms would probably be destined for the rubbish heap in most homes. In the pretty coastal town of South Portland, Maine, a young artist combines biology and technology to create bioart sculptures (http://www.insectlabstudio.com).

Artistic inspiration — he refers to it as his 'epiphany' — first struck Mike Libby in the late 1990s. He happened on a particularly colourful beetle lying dead beside a vending machine. Months later, he assembled his first gear-laden insect from the salvaged workings of an old Mickey Mouse watch, which he transplanted into the beetle.

Glitter bugs

M. LIBBY

Libby calls his blending of nature and technology "a celebration of natural and man-made function". He collects local insects such as butterflies, dragonflies and beetles, but many of his specimens now come from companies that supply insect collectors and entomologists, enabling him to adapt his art to exotic species from around the world.

With the eye of an artist and the skill of a surgeon, he replaces the bugs' innards with recycled cogs, springs, dials, steel and brass gears, as well as more modern resistors, capacitors and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These he carefully glues together to create the bionic bugs. The operation takes 20 to 40 hours.

One of his largest projects, shown here, is the 12-centimetre-long Central American grasshopper, Tropidacris dux, more commonly called the giant brown cricket. So large is the wingspan of this mega-insect that hunters have been known to blast it with shotguns, mistaking it for a bird.

Libby adorns T. dux with brass and copper parts to complement the grasshopper's orange–brown body and wings. The massive specimen carries a suitably hefty price tag: $950.

With today's microelectronics, a logical extension to Libby's art might be to make it interactive — an LED that actually glows, or a wing that flaps. Yet the artist deliberately avoids applying active electronic components in his works.

"I don't want them to look cheap or toy-like," he says. "Any activity or function should be in the mind and imagination of the viewer."

  1. Nick Thomas is an associate professor of chemistry at Auburn University at Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama 36124, USA.

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