Anthony Michael Simon’s sculptures, which at first glance look like fluorescent strings suspended in an abstract cat’s cradle arrangement, are actually the product of Nephila clavata spiders. The artist collects local arachnids, brings them to his studio, and lets them set about their work spinning webs between rods that have been set up for that purpose. Once the spiders have finished creating their lairs, Simon releases them back into nature.
The artist then sets about spraying the structures with multiple layers of misted lacquer to reinforce them. He then adds colour, turning the natural fibers into objects that look man made, even futuristic.
Simon’s initial inspiration for this work came about when he moved from Chicago to the countryside of Korea. He started to analyse the role that nature takes in the relationship between artists and their materials. Instead of using natures’ products as tools with which to create art (wood for canvas stretchers, sable for brushes etc.), Simon decided to work directly with nature, cutting out the middleman. This is when he began ‘highlighting’ leaves.
By painting carefully selected leaves while out in the forrest, Simon ‘highlights’ aspects of nature supposedly without interfering too much;
‘Unlike the use of manufactured lumber – this process does not kill the trees that he employs to construct his work. The foliage is painted, the picture is taken, the leaves fall off, and the plant starts to rebuild itself. Simon is part Native American, and the idea of how he interacts with the world is something that continually reasserts itself in his practice’. (Beautiful Decay).
But however enchanting it would be to chance across one of these works in situ, I’m not sure that there is as much respect for nature here as the above quote suggests. When I posted one of Simon’s works on Instagram, a couple of users questioned the wellbeing of the spiders, making a good point; surely taking them out of their natural habitat where they are part of an ecosystem is not a good thing, even if they are eventually replaced, right?
Likewise, covering leaves in thick lacquer… don’t plants need the surface of their leaves to absorb light in order to photosynthesise?
The works are striking either way by I’m getting a bit fed up with artists and art institutions ‘collaborating’ with nature when it’s potentially damaging.
Last year at the London Frieze festival, artist Thea Djordjadze incorporated Mostera deliciosa into her work, distributing the huge tropical plants throughout the fair’s bustling atmosphere. By the end of the event they were wilting and faded, clearly not suited to the huge amount of visitors brushing past them each day. It was supposed to reference Mattise’s ‘cut-outs’ and the plant paintings in his studio, but the whole thing left me feeling a bit sad, and was nothing like Mattisse’s aesthetic.
Also the other week I visited the new Tate Modern where an exhibit by Hélio Oiticica incorporates live, caged parrots. There was a notice reading that the parrots had to be returned to the owner as the large amount of visitors was disturbing for them. Did they seriously think it was a good idea in the first place?
I know I’m ranting a bit here, and I’m sure that Simon has the best intentions in mind; perhaps lacquer isn’t even bad for trees, what do I know? My point is that there are a lot of artists/institutions out there using nature in a detrimental way, and it’s all a bit dated.
If you agree, head to the PETA website to send a quick message to Tate Modern’s Director urging her not to display these parrots, it’s a small step but if enough people sign it might make an impact.