Vladimir Nabokov, when not writing his groundbreaking, synaesthetic novels, liked to come to the Rocky Mountains to catch moths and butterflies. A fellow in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, Nabokov published noted studies on Lepidoptera, making great strides in his hypothesis on the evolution of Polyommatus blues.
Nabokov's seemingly disparate passions get to the concept behind the I.D.E.A. Space's newest show Parvana, which studies the dual viewpoints of the scientific and the artistic in looking at the world, as well as the places where they overlap, says curator Jessica Hunter-Larsen.
In the 30 or so pieces that will adorn the gallery at Colorado College, butterflies and moths will appear as both muse and specimen, often in the same work. In some pieces, butterfly wings are applied as a medium, more brilliant and shimmering than paint. In others, images of moths are printed in high resolution on large sheets of paper, giving the viewer a vast plain of wing, antenna and body to study.
"So," says Hunter-Larsen, "the question becomes now, 'What are the ways that these ways of understanding influence each other?'"
Multiple layers of understanding pervade nearly every aspect of the show, including the name. In Indo-Persian/Arabic usage, parvana means both moth and butterfly, but alludes to an even further ambiguity with its spiritual connotation. It often means obsessive love, "like moth-to-a-flame compulsion," says Hunter-Larsen, who adds that it can be construed as both "obsessive, passionate love for another person, or being drawn to the light of God ... in a spiritual way."
That in mind, Rebecca DiDomenico's work was a natural for Parvana.
DiDomenico, of Boulder, is one of the show's four artists, and the one who uses butterflies and moths as her medium. Viewers arriving at the show will see DiDomenico's massive "Flutter and Ossify" sculpture first — it's a large sheet of scales made from butterfly wings encased in two slivers of mica, which are then sewn together and hung upright. At the top, a cave-like outcropping made from resin, rock salt and mica dust alludes to the idea that this could be a supernatural rainbow hidden inside the Earth.
(DiDomenico says she sources her materials from responsible and humane butterfly farms around the world, which cropped up in response to rainforest destruction.)
In with the butterfly wings, DiDomenico has also included scraps of plastic trash. From afar, they blend happily with their natural counterparts, but up close they pale next to the wings' iridescence and high detail.
"The idea behind that is that I'm treating the butterfly wings and the trash with the same sense of reverence," says DiDomenico. The plastic, superfluous and immortal, is a good foil to the ephemeral wings, which dissolve to dust on their own.
DiDomenico also brought five small crowns she constructed from various materials. One is covered with shiny green beetle wings, giving it a jolly, charming shape. Another is a collection of the mica and butterfly-wing scales piled on top of one another in an austere circle.
"Some people think [these crowns are] about royalty, but they're really not," she says, noting that "the idea originally comes from alchemy." The symbol of a crown in the ancient art recalls the sacred marriage of the king and queen, which DiDomenico reads as the unity of masculine and feminine forces in ourselves.
When asked how she became attracted to butterflies and other insects as a medium, DiDomenico keeps her spiritual outlook.
To her, nature is God, and butterflies are a perfect example of a beautiful creature designed with every substantive requirement. She explains how there are minute scales covering butterfly wings, and that they act like solar panels to heat the insect. When flying their typical, fragile glide, they tip to one side or another to try and soak in more warmth, she says.
"The functionality is married to the beauty, and the aesthetic of things."