In an exhibition of artworks made using nontraditional materials including dust, expired packaged food, bamboo, an airplane fuselage, snakeskin, a pith helmet, and molded sand, add these to the list of Huang Yong Ping’s artistic media:
African giant millipedes
African emperor scorpions
Madagascar hissing cockroaches
South American pink-toed tarantulas
2 albino rat snakes (aka “Bubblegum rat snakes”)
Blood red legged tarantula
To fulfill Huang’s vision–especially the works Theater of the World (a panopticon/coliseum inhabited by insects, amphibians, and reptiles) and The Wise Man Learns from the Spider How to Spin a Web (which includes a light fixture that casts the shadow of a spider on the desk beneath it)–the Walker brought in Bruce Delles, 27-year owner of Twin Cities Reptiles in St. Paul. On-call 24/7 for the exhibition, he cares for the creatures daily, bringing in water and food for all species, including gelatinized food for the vegetarians and as many as 500 crickets per week for the others. The snakes are another matter: because snakes generally only eat once every 7 to 10 days in captivity–and they eat mice–he rotates eight snakes in and out of the sculpture, bringing four back to his store to be fed in a private setting.
Inspired in part by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s notion of the panopticon, a surveillance model whereby the watched can never see the watcher, the sculpture is indeed a place where gallery viewers can see the predator-prey relationship played out. But Delles says these interactions aren’t always as thrilling, or gory, as the Discovery Channel might suggest. “It gives people who go there and look at [Huang's work] with an open mind the realization that, yes, they are predator and prey and they can cohabitate together–the lion sleeping with the lamb. Most animals don’t kill for the sheer pleasure of killing. It’s either defense or obtaining prey.”
For more on Delles’ involvement with the exhibtion, look for the January/February issue of Walker, available in mid-December.
Photo: Delles at his store in St. Paul. By Cameron Wittig