Cicadas are back, but now they're art

A short-lived exhibit includes their wings

December 04, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Jessie Lehson's newest work pays homage to cicadas, those noisy, flighty creatures that last summer emerged after having spent years underground. So it is appropriate that, like those short-lived insects, her art will have only a brief time in the light.

Lehson's piece will be on view tonight only at the spare room on Greenmount Avenue, an exhibition space that is dedicated to single-day works of art. A new creation is displayed each month.

The space is really an unused bedroom in a home owned by Cindy Rehm, who teaches art at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The temporary nature of the installations adds to the excitement of viewing art, Rehm said.

Lehson's creation is an elongated sculpture built of narrow strips of handmade paper embedded with real cicada wings. The work, which stretches the length of the installation space, is shaded in hues of green from forest to leaf. The wings are bare and untreated, and Lehson has no idea how long they'll last.

Called Cicada, the sculpture begins at a coat rack in a tiny closet. The papers, glued together in a band, flow to the ground where the sculpture widens and moves across the hardwood floor to an oversized window. There -- seemingly defying gravity -- the paper travels up about a foot to the window sill. The effect is eerie -- like a creek bifurcating a room.

"This is a departure for me and my work, I almost always work with grids," said the 25-year-old artist as she surveyed her efforts. "But the architecture of this room provided a grid," she continued, gesturing to a tall radiator in the corner and a single oversized window.

Lehson, who graduated in 2002 from the Maryland Institute College of Art, made the paper used in this project from weeds and grass near her home in Hampden. "I walk around collecting bags of weeds, I get funny looks, but surprisingly few people say anything," she said with a laugh.

The Ellicott City native often creates art that uses weeds, dirt and garbage -- substances society disdains. She's used gum wrappers, plastic bags and Styrofoam cups. But this is the first time she's added bug parts to the mix.

"Cicadas were such a huge part of my summer," she said. "I spent so much time whacking them off of my tree. They became the bane of my existence."

They also became her focus. In June, when she began designing this piece, she recruited an 8-year-old neighbor to help collect the insect parts. The two spent days seeking the transparent wings.

"They were everywhere, I mean the grass was littered with these little wings," she said. "I tried to litter my work with them the same way the grass was littered with the bugs."

After gathering the debris, she boils it in batches for three hours. The resulting gooey substance is stuffed into a blender, strained and set on a mold to dry. Because Lehson has only one mold she can make only one sheet of paper at a time.

The wings disintegrated rapidly and disappeared into the fiber as she made it. So the artist saved several hundred in a box and stuck them in clumps on the paper as it dried.

"It seems like an inordinate amount of work for a one-day show," she admitted.

But it's not the result that she really cares about.

"I do try to do pieces that are visually interesting, but it is these really laborious processes that interest me," she said.

Rolling up this piece of art after one night seems right. Lehson's work illustrates how beauty can grow from patience and that anticipating the ephemeral can be worthwhile in itself.


What: Installation of Cicada

When: 7-10 tonight

Where: spare room, 3720 Greenmount Ave.

Refreshments: Spun sugar cicada wings and edible mint paper

Information: E-mail Cindy Rehm at

Note: The venue is in a private home. It is free and open to the public for one day only. Additional private viewings may be granted by request.

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