“Hovering with rarefied, jewel-like beauty, Tessa’s tiny spectacles resound with a theurgist exotica: their specimen forms borrow from Victorian occultism to evolve as something alien and futuristic.”
This is how Patricia Ellis described Tessa Farmer’s unbelievably intricate insect artwork back in 2007. In June, I had the chance to see her latest exhibition up close and personal – and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
With names like “Nymphidia”, “Enchanted Garden: Flower Fairies and Dark Tales” and “House of Beasts”, I had a strong feeling, a gut instinct, that I’d enjoy browsing Tessa’s sculptures in the flesh. I was right. Each specimen is handcrafted over many painstaking hours using tiny tweezers and cotton buds and so on to form the complex, multidimensional collections visitors are drawn to when they slide through the exhibit rooms. It’s almost as interesting watching other people’s reactions to her stunning suspended artworks as it is gawping in selfish wonder at the gently swaying hangings….
There is something timeless about Tessa’s work. Even though her objects are dead insects and animals, the preservation aspect means they have not been lost to decay and decomposition or been eaten by other animals in their natural habitat. By including them in the artworks, she is allowing them to take on a brand new meaning – and bold, striking new forms and shapes. In a way, the positions of the insects and animals represent life, albeit a suspended, eerie form of life. The objects are still (unless a breeze picks up) but the ants and crawling insects always appear to be working at something, holding something, flying somewhere – always busy.
During my visit to the exhibition, I noticed something I hadn’t expected: the installations have a fantastic overall colour. Tessa’s creative use of natural, preserved insects and animals such as flies and rats and those little, personified ants, results in a gentle, pale light that seems to come from the objects and bring the whole piece together as one. The lighting in the room is clearly a factor. As you can see from ‘Insectary, 2007’, the central components are lit with pinpoint spots but there are shadowy areas underneath which give real depth to the scene. Look at the way the artist has arranged those tiny, delicate additional insects around the central module. Only the most calm temperament, the steadiest hand and the best creative mind can develop such inspiring natural art with that wonderful, dark edge I so enjoy.
“Little Savages” By Tessa Farmer
This photograph illustrates how Tessa’s work translates to the camera. The dog has a lovely, alive glint in his/her eyes and seems slightly wary yet oddly content with the little conversation going on at the end of his nose. The detail is magnificent. The results are unique, unusual, edgy and brilliantly executed.
One day I’d like to use a piece of Tessa’s work to inspire one of my short stories.