Saturday, June 17, 2023

Curiosity and Wonder: Gingko Butterfly Installation

How long ago did humans discover that, with a little artful manipulation, gingko leaves can be transformed into wondrous butterflies? The discovery could date back to the dawn of humankind. The gingko, a living fossil that hasn't changed for more than 200 million years, is a living link to the dinosaurs. 

In this ephemeral installation project on the eastern shore of Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland, I am using the illusion to entertain our species during what sometimes feels like the twilight of the apocalypse.

Butterflies in progress

I played with various mediums and discovered a few basic principles in creating gingko leaf butterflies:

• Always split the stem into antennae when fresh-picked (otherwise it will be too brittle to split)
• Acrylic paint is the only medium I tried that worked; pens and markers do not
• Create a base layer of color first and let it dry before adding the decorative details
• Metallic acrylics produced my favorite results
• I used little blobs of museum wax to affix to trees; scotch tape would be an alternative


Mixed metallic and regular

The installation's focus is on attention to detail, beauty, curiosity and wonder. My hopes for viewer participation are as follows:

1. Notice: What is that? A butterfly?
2: Curiosity: Wait a minute, is it real?

3. Awe and wonder: It's a leaf! A gingko leaf on this beautiful gingko tree...

Below are a handful of photographs of the butterflies installed on the trunks of the gingko trees at the edge of the lake.

For those wondering whether I lurk around post-installation to see the results, the answer is no. Whether it is little people vacationing in a pothole, or a miniature luxury apartment for rent installed in a newsstand, the idea is to set it up and walk away. I have done my part, let the world carry on. During this install I got caught in a passers-by back-flow by surprise. By the time I had finished posting butterflies at the far end of the block, strollers were already noticing and stopping to inspect the first ones posted. A nice surprise since my curmudgeonly expectation is that most people walk around blind to their surroundings. 

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. Delightful. Inspiring. Thank you.


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