I think this may be the only occasion in my life when I have more to say about the ticketing of an event than the actual exhibition itself. I could probably wax lyrical for an entire post about the genius idea played out by the folks at the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery – “pop in for a pound”. The idea is that for the hour before closing all entry fees are reduced to £1. Which is great for anyone hoping to catch just the temporary exhibition, popping in with short-attention span children (or adults for that matter!), locals who can come back again and again or even just people like myself who prefer the whistle-stop tour to the aimless meander. The main reason I waited patiently until 4pm on this occasion was the exhibition in question; “Caddis, Crystal and Company” is the first major solo UK exhibition by the French artist Hubert Duprat. Duprat is most famous for his work draping caddis fly larvae in gold and gems and I just wasn’t sure insects with bling was really my thing.
Duprat is a French artist whose work is strong influenced by the natural world. Other pieces in the collection drew on wood, coral and even bread. But it was the adorned insects in a small slim aquaria fastened to a side wall of the exhibit that most people would have visited the gallery for. Beginning in the early 1980s Duprat’s working relationship with caddis fly larvae has spanned several decades.
“the consideration, within nature, of an aesthetic dimension is the stumbling block of science”
A keen naturalist, he was inspired by early entomologists (those who study insects) who would have had lovingly prepared collections of their favourite species. His own interest lay with the caddis fly larvae, with whom he formed a collaboration that has spanned at least twenty years. These particular larvae build protective casings by incorporating natural debris found around them (from shell to minerals to sand) into their silk sheath. Highly adaptable, these larvae will incorporate whatever products they find around them and Duprat exploited this, bringing samples back to his studio where he removed their casings and placed them in aquaria filled with gold and precious stones.
Image from Cabinet Magazine (please do check our their article, it’s rather good). Before the exhibition I had always assumed the shells were static and man-made due to structured and patterned look of the casings (especially the blue-banded larvae on the right). As the critic/philosopher Cristian Besson said in conversation with Duprat (Pleasance, 1998) “the consideration, within nature, of an aesthetic dimension is the stumbling block of science”.
Duprat’s work has become a talking point for the questions it raises regarding the ownership and control of the art. Is Duprat the artist for orchestrating the entire situation? Or do the larvae themselves create the artwork? Duprat himself has said “it is much their work as it is mine” and long before his gilded larvae appeared on the scene biologists have admired the beautiful structures caddis fly larvae create.
Picture from the Huntarian Museum website, see link below
The exhibition as a whole shows Duprat’s gilt-edged version of nature; one of twisted forms and double-takes like a fairy tale woodland, sometimes darkness, sometimes light. He is not an artist I would chose to follow, but it was an interesting exhibition all the same.
Favourite piece: “”Coupé-cloué” (literally, “cut-nailed”) – two felled trees enrobed in thousands upon thousands of brass upholstery pins. The first time I walked past I didn’t even realise they were trees and it wasn’t until I read the small descriptive piece attached that I looked more closely and could see the structure of the tree, where the branches had been, shining through. It was at that point I began studying the exhibition in more detail. Such a simple idea but such a beautiful piece.
Caddis, Crystal and Company was part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival (NNF11) and is on display until the end of August.
Pleasance (1998) The Wonderful Caddis Worm: Scilptural Work in Collaboration with Trichoptera”. A translation of Cristian Besson in conversation with Hubery Duprat. Leonardo vol. 31(3)