Julia Oldham clearly isn’t into her art for the glamour. “Flitting her arms like a firefly or wriggling like a grub,” the video artist uses movement to conjure the lives of insects, according to University of Chicago Magazine in its November-December issue.
Oldham tells the magazine that her art is attempt to come to grips with the mystery of the natural world, and that deep field observation is key to her process:
For The Timber, named for her family’s 700-acre forest preserve in Marshalltown, Iowa, where gnats swarm, crickets chirp, and spiders glide across the ground on a warm late summer day, the Brooklyn-based artist spent two weeks in 2008 living in a cabin overlooking the Iowa River. Each day she ventured out with her sketchbook to study insect larvae around creeks, track grasshoppers in the prairie, and poke at ground beetles helping a log to rot in the dense forest. Then she turned on her video camera and intuitively performed a hybrid of bug actions on the forest floor. Each video, an homage to a different bug, is shot in a single take. During editing she adjusts the color and speed, she says, to “push the movements to an unexpected, almost alarming place.”
New York alternative arts group Art in General has written (PDF) that “Oldham’s art re-contextualizes the human relationship with nature, drawing attention to our competing responses of curiosity, repulsion, empathy, and alienation when confronted with the insect world.”
Thoreau’s close observation of ants notwithstanding, there’s typically not much fame or fortune to be had from artistically interpreting the lives of bugs. But Oldham has found a receptive audience for her work, with a busy slate of shows and residencies. Visit her website to see her video art, and watch her discuss how she makes it in this clip from Art in General: