In early 2018, artist Elizabeth Alvarez proposed an insect-focused art piece that would address the theme of the Museum Open House, “Magnification”. Collaborating with Jordan Reynolds and Tamara Sabbagh, two artists who work here at the Triplehorn collection, Elizabeth collected macro images of a local sweat bee (Agapostemon sericeus, specimen number OSUC 127013, collected in Columbus, Ohio in 1930) to bring to light what is normally lost in scale. Not only did she render the invisible— visible, but she added vitality and intrigue by animating the bee.
In the artist’s own words:
Where did you get inspiration from?
“My experience of viewing specimens using a microscope inspired this piece. The microscope lens and mirrors bend the light projected onto the specimen, illuminating it, which allows us to visually explore its features. Specimens become more endearing when you can look upon their faces. Even the shape of the display was circular to mimic the eye piece of a microscope.”
How did you build it?
“I had divided and cut up a reinforced cardboard mold, normally used to pour concrete footers, for its cylindrical shape, and tautly wrapped leather around the exterior. A clear, acrylic platform held up a tablet that displayed the animation of the sweat bee. A clear transparency was angled below the tablet to reflect the animation to create the illusion of a hologram. A sweat bee specimen was imaged from many angles, and the images were then used to create a fluid animation. I studied several videos of sweat bees to create accurate articulation and movement. The flowers were printed on standard paper, and mounted on cardstock. They were then cut and attached to the interior of the footer to work with the position of the projected bee.”
“There is concern with the disappearance of honey bees, but all pollinators are important and include sweat bees. This was an opportunity to highlight a pollinator that is commonly found in Ohio, to raise awareness, and endear these vital species to the general public to avoid potentially grave consequences. This bee became more tangible once you could see how it interacted with its environment.
Ultimately, I wanted to create something visually striking to present the bee in a new context. It needed to magnify the bee’s presence literally and metaphorically, because knowledge is synonymous with illumination.”
“A special thank you to Jordan and Tamara for all of their hard work imaging the specimen and providing feedback. Dr. Musetti for providing access to the specimen and the imaging equipment, for verifying the accuracy of the display, and most of all for providing a space for me to exhibit the work during the Museum Open House 2018. To my family for helping me where they could along the way.”
About the Author: Elizabeth Alvarez is an Art & Technology OSU alumna and former staffer at the Triplehorn Insect Collection. While working at the collection she specialized in the production of publication quality photos of museum specimens, and later, on the recommendation of Dr. Musetti, had the benefit of a summer internship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History under the direction of Dr. Talamas, then a Postdoc there at the Entomology Department. After graduating, Liz briefly continued her work at the Triplehorn collection, fine tuning imaging protocols and training new personnel on specimen imaging.