I met artist Chris Beards at a show of his work in northern California a few months ago. I thought his sculptures were beautiful and whimsical and I liked that they were made from odd bits of natural and recycled materials. But what were those organic pod thingies he’d strung together to form a sculpture?
Oak galls. A gall, as you may know, is an abnormal swelling of plant tissue. Sometimes it happens in response to an injury, but usually this strange growth plays host to some insect. Galls are usually considered to be harmless and in some cases can be very beneficial: some galls play host to insects that protect the tree from predators and even care for the tree in that strange way that only, say, an army of ants could do.
Chris told me that he was drawn to the galls and started collecting them for possible use in a sculpture along with found bits of machinery. (His artist’s statement says, "The fragility of the organic is contrasted with the cool logic of the mechanical." Yeah, I can dig that.)
He brought the galls indoors and began working on this sculpture, when something surprising happened: they hatched. The wasp larvae that had been snuggled inside the galls all decided to emerge at once, and soon the house was filled with the pitter-pat of little wasp wings.
And so this art project met the fate that so many art projects do. "My wife made me take it outside," Chris said. He managed to get it finished anyway, and here’s the result. Brilliant? Crazy? You decide.