We live with insects, yet know next to nothing about them -- except that they disguise themselves, invade our homes, and can make us sick, and must therefore represent pure evil. Bugs haunt our nightmares and science fiction with their elegant, alienlike, robotic composition. Who could possibly love them?
Artist Gary Brewer, for one. He has gathered together a remarkable collection of works for "Them: An Exhibition of Artists, Scientists, and Designers Concerned With the Entomological Universe." The many standouts of the show include Keith E. Lo Bue's insect installations, the beautiful and eloquent Etymology of Entomology by Olivia E. Sears, a number of extraordinary specimens from the local Bone Room, and Brewer's own monumental painting, Bee in Amber, whose subject seems to be revving up in red-hot smoke like a motorcycle.
But perhaps the show's most intriguing component is on film: Footage from the research of Dr. Robert Full, head of the polypedal department at UC Berkeley, unlocks the secrets of insect locomotion. Full of treadmills and distance markers, the films depict the way insects negotiate complex terrain -- literally, how they put one foot in front of many others -- in a way we have never before seen. There's something noble and tragic about magnified ants flailing in awkward slo-mo helplessness around a drop of water. (Thank God they don't speak English as in Antz and A Bug's Life!)
Dr. Full will speak alongside his films at the Sunday screening of "Insect Shorts: 1950s to the Present," which also includes vintage science films, Mark Thompson's performance art with honeybees, and Max Fleischer's insect animation from the days when Mickey himself looked more like a spider than a mouse.
-- Frako Loden
"Them: An Exhibition of Artists, Scientists, and Designers Concerned With the Entomological Universe" continues at Somar Gallery (934 Brannan at Ninth Street) through Jan. 30. "Insect Shorts: 1950s to the Present" screens Sunday, Jan. 31, at 7:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut (at Jones), S.F. Admission is $7; call 558-8129.