• Chasing the Devil’s Tail

    Date posted: November 30, 2009 Author: jolanta
    For the past ten years my artistic practice has been dominated by the emergence and existence of a new species: skeleton fairies, part human, part animal.

    Tessa Farmer

    Tessa Farmer, Little Savages (detail), 2007. Taxidermy fox and bird, bird nest, wasp nest, animal bones, insects, plant roots. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and the Natural History Museum, London.

    For the past ten years my artistic practice has been dominated by the emergence and existence of a new species: skeleton fairies, part human, part animal. They hover somewhere between existence and imagination, between life and death. Visually provocative they are macabre, yet strangely beautiful, combining elements of attraction and repulsion. Seductive to some, these are however, far removed from the benign gossamer beings of the Victorian era. They emulate pre-Shakespearian fairies, before they were miniaturized, which were related to demons, darkness, and the dead.

    This monomaniacal approach has seen my role transform from creator to that of observer/narrator, bringing a newly discovered species to public attention through sculpture, drawing, and stop-motion animation. This voyage of discovery has been largely influenced by my obsessive collecting of insects and animals and the random nature of material that I, and others, find. This practice, in itself, offers excitement and rewards for trawling summertime streets and scrutinizing the trodden detritus (and I frequently receive gifts!). Subsequent study of the collected organic material (insect, bone, or animal) informs the development of the fairies’ behavior.

    I have witnessed a rapid evolutionary trajectory of the fairies who initially stood seven centimeters tall (constructed from small twigs, with leaf skeleton wings) and fed on plants. They quickly shrunk to insect size (seven millimeters tall, made from plant roots with insect wings) and began to prey on the insects around them, simultaneously acquiring suitable traits of predatory and defensive behavior to improve their chances of survival. As well as becoming skilled hunters, to rival even dragonflies, the fairies began to build structures from the remains of their quarry (insect and mammal). They construct flying vessels, which I call skullships, like in the work The Insectary, to assist them in their hunting expeditions, and static structures for habitation, storage, and the farming of and experimentation on captive insects like in the piece Cerberus.

    In 2007 during a residency in the Department of Entomology at the Natural History Museum, London, driven by an ambition to discover more about the possible origins, life cycle, and behavior of the fairies, I met Dr. Gavin Broad who introduced me to the often overlooked, fascinatingly gruesome world of parasitoid wasps. These insects lay their eggs in the larvae or adults of other insects. I soon realized that the fairies are probably a kind of parasitoid wasp, and this insight informed the next stage in their evolution: I observed them surreptitiously ovipositing (egg laying) into larvae and adult insects, even mammals like in Little Savages. With a mix of human intellect, and refined insect ability to survive and reproduce, their ambition shows no bounds. I am at once excited and fearful to discover the future of this intriguingly malevolent species.

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