A bug’s eye view: Shawn Smith’s Ommatidium exhibition

2 months ago 27
March 10, 2023

I followed the buzz past Saturday and attended the opening of Austin creator Shawn Smith‘s “Ommatidium” accumulation astatine grayDUCK Gallery. I’ve followed Shawn’s enactment with involvement for years. For 1 thing, helium and his wife, Ann, are neighbors and friends of ours, and sometimes I get a sneak peek of caller enactment successful his studio. For another, his absorption connected the analyzable — and often digitally filtered — quality cognition of quality is fascinating.


Shawn is known for his 3D pixilated woody sculptures of animals — often astonishingly life-sized. For “Ommatidium,” helium diverges from his accustomed benignant to make 2D artworks, fanciful insect sculptures, a flickering airy installation, and adjacent a stained-glass sculpture of an Australian termite mound (pictured above). It’s a terrific amusement — thought-provoking, slyly humorous, and oddly beautiful. Here’s the authoritative description:

“Ommatidium explores our analyzable narration with the insect world. The amusement investigates the darkly humorous selling of chemic agents to safely annihilate, the utmost championing of aesthetically pleasing and utile insects implicit each others, the strangely macabre methods of measuring insect colonisation density, and the overlooked quality of their analyzable architecture. Ommatidium refers to the compound oculus operation that insects usage to presumption the world. With this exhibition, creator Shawn Smith uses this thought of analyzable imaginativeness to promote viewers to flooded their innate fearfulness and disgust of insects and spot them done a antithetic lens.”


Watch the Red Queen run, and spot a concealed connection revealed successful this 55-second video of MAD. The Red Queen Effect, 1 of the concepts astatine play here, is simply a proposal astir evolutionary biology, named aft a quality successful Alice successful Wonderland. The conception of MAD, oregon Mutually Assured Destruction, volition beryllium acquainted to anyone who lived done the Cold War.

Flit Gun

A flit gun, an old-style pesticide sprayer, greets you astatine the doorway of the gallery. A bird’s caput is fused to the sprayer — 1 of the unintended victims of indiscriminate insecticide use, which poisons the nutrient proviso of galore different animals.

“Kills Pests Dead,” it reads. And more!


Buzzwords, a gigantic collage of cheery insecticide advertisements, hangs connected 1 partition of the gallery. Many of these made maine laughter retired loud, oregon groan successful disbelief. The advertisement astatine apical near (above) proclaims, “DDT is bully for me-e-e!”

“No Flies connected Me Thanks to DDT,” reads different with a photograph of a smiling baby.


Wasp-nest letters spell retired NIMBY, an acronym for “Not In My Backyard.” The uncomfortable feeling you get, viewing this exhibition, is knowing you’ve (at slightest I have) utilized insecticides to get escaped of pesky insects. Wasps gathering a nest by the backmost door? Sure. Fire ants? No hesitation. Agave snout-nosed weevils attacking my treasured (and expensive) large agaves and towering yuccas? I’m acrophobic so. Just this week I coated the interior of my mailbox with Raid erstwhile ants started gathering a nest successful there. The guilt! But ants successful the mail? Nope.

It’s casual to adore ladybugs, dragonflies, and butterflies, but it’s challenging to clasp all insects, particularly destructive oregon unsafe ones. Shawn’s creation recognizes that and asks america to analyse our conflicted feelings astir bugs. Isn’t determination quality and worth here, it asks?

Prepping for the Void series

Of his Prepping for the Void bid of insect sculptures, Shawn writes:

“In a emblematic summertime month, 6 cardinal insects alert implicit your head. Wind and aerial currents disperse insects to large distances. Since 1926, scientists person been utilizing airplanes to cod insects arsenic precocious arsenic 19,000 feet. For this series, I imagined creating abstraction suits to assistance the insects past their journey.”

Invisible Cities: Weaver Ant Nest

Pixilated collages of insect “homes” — chrysalises, termite mounds, and ant nests — marque up the Invisible Cities series. Shawn’s wife, Ann Berman, collaborated connected these intriguing artworks, each of which is collaged from “books of things that humans value: gold, good art, uncommon orchids, and play courses.” Weaver Ant Nest (above) was pieced unneurotic from photos of play courses.

Kaleidoscope successful Decline

A caterpillar-shaped, 3D partition sculpture of monarch butterflies is called Kaleidoscope successful Decline. “The wide signifier represents a graph of the declining monarch butterfly colonisation from 1993 to 2017.”


A striking — and squirm-inducing to those with trypophobia — 3D portion called Remnant features a photograph of the artist’s look molded to a recovered insubstantial wasp nest. Shawn writes:

“Paper wasps usage their nests to rear their young. At the extremity of the season, they permission the nest and ne'er return. I was fascinated that truthful overmuch labour goes into creating, maintaining, and defending specified an intricate architectural structure, lone to beryllium abandoned. Paper wasps usage facial designation to place the members of their hive….I transfigure[d] my representation by inserting it into a wasp nest. I wanted to place myself arsenic thing successful quality not extracurricular of it.”

Artist Shawn Smith

Well done, Shawn (and Ann)! If you’re successful Austin, enactment connected your virtual compound eyes and spell spot “Ommatidium” astatine grayDUCK Gallery. It runs done April 16, 2023. And if you privation to conscionable Shawn, he’s giving an artist’s speech connected April 1st astatine 2 pm.

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Digging Deeper

Make plans to be the Budding Out Plant Sale & Festival connected March 18 astatine the John Fairey Garden successful Hempstead, TX. Rare and distinctive plants volition beryllium offered, arsenic good arsenic art, ceramics, jewelry, food, drink, music, and different amusement for the full family. Members person aboriginal entree and get successful free. Non-member admittance is $5. Children 12 and nether are free.

Shop for autochthonal Texas plants astatine the Wildflower Center’s outpouring Native Plant Sale. Held connected Fridays done Sundays, March 24 to May 7, from 9 americium to 1 pm. The archetypal play is conscionable for Wildflower Center members, truthful join to bask this perk, positive get escaped admittance each twelvemonth and more.

Tour play kicks disconnected with the caller Austin Home’s Great Outdoors Tour connected March 25 from 11 americium to 4 pm. Visit 7 decorator landscapes for $20, and stitchery ideas for your ain outdoor surviving space.

Experience the Surreal Garden astatine Zilker Botanical Garden, an enchanting neon-art show passim the gardens, with nutrient and drink, euphony and dancing, surreal performers, and interactive creation sculptures. Surreal costumes encouraged! 25% of lawsuit proceeds payment the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy. Runs April 6 (VIP Night), April 7-8, and April 13-15, from 6:30 p.m. to 11 pm.

Tour 9 decorator landscapes connected the 2023 Austin Outdoor Living Tour on May 6. Designers and builders volition beryllium connected manus to reply your questions. Cost is $33.85 for adults and $17.85 for kids aged 12 to 17. For safety, nary 1 nether 12 years of property but for carried infants.

Come larn astir plot plan from the experts astatine Garden Spark! I signifier in-person talks by inspiring designers, scenery architects, and authors a fewer times a twelvemonth successful Austin. These are limited-attendance events that merchantability retired quickly, truthful articulation the Garden Spark email database to beryllium notified successful advance. Simply click this nexus and inquire to beryllium added. Season 7 starts successful August. Stay tuned for the lineup!

All worldly © 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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