Blogs Untitled (Blog) House of Oracles

Watch your back, Betty.

Visitors to House of Oracles over the next few days will notice unusual behavior from the blood red-legged tarantula–dubbed Betty by our gallery monitors–in Huang Yong Ping’s installation The Wise Man Learns from the Spider How to Spin a Web (she’s enclosed in the cage above the table in this photo): the spider has flipped […]

Visitors to House of Oracles over the next few days will notice unusual behavior from the blood red-legged tarantula–dubbed Betty by our gallery monitors–in Huang Yong Ping’s installation The Wise Man Learns from the Spider How to Spin a Web (she’s enclosed in the cage above the table in this photo): the spider has flipped on her back. But Registrar Gwen Bitz assures everything’s fine.

“I called Bruce at Twin Cities Reptiles to find out what I should do,” she says. “He informs me that she is in the molting process, shedding her skin. She has been losing hair off of her butt and her back in the past week. The skin on her back has probably split and she takes the prone position to protect her back. The molting process takes about 48 hours. Sometimes they do not survive the process, but we are confident she will be okay.”

Should you visit, though, don’t disturb Betty. Eightlegs.org writes that molting (called ecdysis) is a “stressful activity that consumes every ounce of its energy. The tarantula will pump fluid pressure in its body to get the carapace to pop off first. The opisothoma or abdomen will split along its sides, and the spider will continue to slowly, almost imperceptibly, pump fluid in its limbs to ooze the old skin off its legs. The process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours.”

[Photo: Gene Pittman]

The herpetology of Huang

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: White-spotted geckos Armadillo lizards African giant millipedes African emperor scorpions Madagascar hissing cockroaches South American pink-toed tarantulas Ball pythons […]

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:

White-spotted geckos

Armadillo lizards

African giant millipedes

African emperor scorpions

Madagascar hissing cockroaches

South American pink-toed tarantulas

Ball pythons

2 albino rat snakes (aka “Bubblegum rat snakes”)

Blood red legged tarantula

Feeder crickets

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

Fake animal doctor.

Given Huang Yong Ping’s choice to create an elephant out of concrete, steel, and cowhide–rather than use an actual preserved pachyderm–I was surprised to meet Brad Reddick in the Walker galleries last week. Reddick runs Mid-America Taxidermy in Savage, Minnesota, where he’s stuffed all kinds of animals, including giraffe, hippopotamus, cape buffalo, and deer (no […]

Given Huang Yong Ping’s choice to create an elephant out of concrete, steel, and cowhide–rather than use an actual preserved pachyderm–I was surprised to meet Brad Reddick in the Walker galleries last week. Reddick runs Mid-America Taxidermy in Savage, Minnesota, where he’s stuffed all kinds of animals, including giraffe, hippopotamus, cape buffalo, and deer (no domestic animals; of memorializing Fido he says he’ll “leave that to the other guys”). He was called in by the Walker Registration department to seal small gaps caused by the shrinking of the sculpture’s cowhide skin and to replace the claws on the tiger (also a replica, covered with painted rabbit fur). But what does a taxidermist know about repairing fake animals?

Plenty, he says. The work he performed on Huang’s piece last week used both skills and materials–epoxy and fiberglass resin–he became familiar with through other projects, chief among them building replicas for zoos and natural history museums. A faux tree, constructed entirely of epoxies, can be seen at the Minnesota zoo, and Reddick’s artificial habitats–the dioramas on which mounted animals appear–are integrated into displays at the Sioux Falls Zoo and Museum.

Will he be there when the exhibition opens Sunday? Probably not; it’s hunting season after all.

An elephantine task.

An elephant can hit a top speed of around 24 miles per hour running, but the beast in Huang Yong Ping’s upcoming exhibition didn’t reach anywhere near that when it traveled from the Walker loading dock to Gallery 6 on September 30. Here’s a look at the journey of the 2,000-pound elephant (which is really […]

An elephant can hit a top speed of around 24 miles per hour running, but the beast in Huang Yong Ping’s upcoming exhibition didn’t reach anywhere near that when it traveled from the Walker loading dock to Gallery 6 on September 30. Here’s a look at the journey of the 2,000-pound elephant (which is really a replica created out of concrete, steel, and painted animal skins).

After it was placed in the gallery, the elephant was conserved by a local taxidermist and the sculpture, dubbed 11 June 2002–The Nightmare of George V (2002), was completed: a replica of a tiger attacking a wicker seat was set in place. As Artforum wrote of the piece as it appeared in the 26th Sao Paulo Bienal:

The title identifies the hunter as King George V of England. Huang explains that in 1911 the king, while hunting in Nepal, killed four tigers in three days, a remarkable feat. One of the tigers attacked the king, and he donated this specimen to a museum in Bristol, where Huang found it. In Paris the artist located preserved animals from other treks. He attached to a wicker howdah on the elephant’s back a tiger in the documented position of attack, but he replaced the royal howdah–an emblem of empire–with the sort used to protect well-heeled tourists. The tableau looks back to the approaching end of the colonial period.

Here’s what it looks like today:

[Transport photos by Cameron Wittig.]

Ping swings.

[As part of the installation crew for House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective, technician Phil Docken is charged with the intricate assembly of Bat Project IV. This is the first installment of his ongoing documentation of the process. He's the guy in the striped shirt.] The nose of a Lockheed EP-3 arrived at […]

[As part of the installation crew for House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective, technician Phil Docken is charged with the intricate assembly of Bat Project IV. This is the first installment of his ongoing documentation of the process. He's the guy in the striped shirt.]

The nose of a Lockheed EP-3 arrived at the Walker this summer. It will be the forward section of Huang Yong Ping’s Bat Project, a reference to the infamous incident of 2001 off the coast of China.

Our plane had been cut into seven pieces at the bone-yard in California and arrived in a jumble at the museum. Re-assembly plates accompanied the jumble and I set about learning how to put the nose of the surveillance plane back together. I cleared out leaves, dust, Pepsi cans and bugs which were testimony to the length of time this plane had sat waiting for H Y Ping to designate it as part of an art work.

Photos show the center section swinging from a gantry. We listen to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew while we figure out the next step. We’re swingin’ too!

And we are having fun. This is a brush with greatness! Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works designed and built the SR-71, the fastest and sleekest aircraft ever made……..

Fast? Yes. Those SR-71 pilots had their own Psalm: “…yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I shall fear no evil. For I am at 82,000 ft and climbing…’ “

High and Dry in the Mojave

Sometimes, organizing an exhibition can expand a curator’s job description in ways previously unimagined. I started working with Philippe Vergne on the first retrospective of the work of Huang Yong Ping soon after I joined the Walker in 2003. As preparations for the show intensified this winter, a number of unconventional necessities started cropping up, […]

Sometimes, organizing an exhibition can expand a curator’s job description in ways previously unimagined. I started working with Philippe Vergne on the first retrospective of the work of Huang Yong Ping soon after I joined the Walker in 2003. As preparations for the show intensified this winter, a number of unconventional necessities started cropping up, required by the complex nature of many of Huang’s pieces. A highlight of House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective, opening next month, will be Bat Project, an installation inspired by the collision of an American spy plane and a Chinese fighter plane in April 2002. The incident set off an intense diplomatic standoff between the two nations. Reading about the event in a newspaper en route from France to China for an exhibition, Huang realized that sometimes art can do no better than life. But what seemed like a simple plan–reconstituting part of the American EP-3 plane out of wood scaffolding and aluminum panels–touched a nerve with more parties than one could have guessed. Facing censorship on each of three attempts, Huang has never been able to fully realize the project.

When we considered including Bat Project (named after the stylized bat insignia on the US spy plane) in the exhibition, it seemed only fitting to find a real piece of an EP-3. After countless hours googling, I was not quite becoming an expert, but industry names and acronyms that had been previously alien to me–EP-3, P-3, Lockheed Electra, and Orion–started rolling off my tongue. Talking about planes is one thing, but finding one is altogether another. After more sleuthing, we identified an airplane junkyard in the desert highland of California where we might find a decommissioned EP-3. During a visit with Huang at the Walker in January, we decided, rather impromptu, to head to California to check out the junkyard ourselves.

One sunny day in February, I picked up Huang at the Burbank Airport and aimed a rented Jeep in the direction of El Mirage. After an hour and a half drive over the Los Angeles Mountains, filled by attempted conversations in my stilted French (the artist speaks no English), we came onto a high plateau. Suddenly, a mammoth, rat-colored military plane appeared overhead, swooping across the cloudless sky, as if announcing that we’d entered a military flight zone. Despite my best effort to be prepared with precise directions and maps, there were a few turn-arounds along the way, but we eventually got there–a bleak but sublimely beautiful flatland littered with forlorn-looking fuselages, cockpits, and piles of airplane parts.

Friendly staff invited Huang and I to look around, but we must have made a strange sight–two Asians looking utterly out of place, poking our noses into this industrial wasteland. Accompanied by an exceedingly solicitous stray dog, we climbed onto many fuselages–from mid-sized passenger planes and enormous military cargo planes. One particularly awesome Goliath, we were told, had been used for the recent movie Con Air. As Huang thoughtfully took pictures, I followed him around taking pictures of him taking pictures. But after several hours of reconnaissance, we couldn’t find an EP-3. We reluctantly left, a little crestfallen and dusty from the desert winds.

But the story has a happy ending. In the following weeks I continued to pursue a lead in the junk airplane dealership (who would have thought?) and eventually located an old EP-3 cockpit. As I am writing these words, it is being cut into manageable sections and will soon be transported to the Walker, where it will be recomposed in an installation work measuring more than 43 feet long and 13 feet high–the first ever fully realized showing of Bat Project. Sometimes life is better than art. And sometimes, art gives us better life stories.