Artist Brad Troemel loves ants and internet tutorials. For his current exhibition at Feuer/Mesler Gallery in New York, Brad created sculptures using a variety of Pinterest-learned skills, including casting underground ant colonies from DIY forged aluminum, creating handmade paper that can grow a garden, baking gingerbread for a few thousand cockroaches (I’ll spare you the detail shots of that one), and growing psychedelic mushrooms!!! The results are all on display, and it’s beautifully bizarre.
My favorite sculptures are the aluminum castings of real abandoned ant colonies. I’ve personally lost over two total hours watching molten metal poured into ant hills on YouTube (which is likely where Troemel learned the craft), but to see these upside-down insect-aided sculptures in person is incredible. As the titles suggest, no ants were harmed.
In a separate room, Troemel learned the craft of growing psilocybin mushrooms (aka “shrooms”) and building “security frames” in which to hide them. Even before I knew what these dried fungi were, I loved the visual poetry of the calligraphic dried mushrooms juxtaposed with the colorful images of flowers, and the idea that this poetry would still work if the frames were closed after seeing them. The “silk road” reference in the title likely refers to the online black market where these could have been acquired, and is the only indication of what kind of mushrooms these actually are. The name in parenthesis is the flower that hides them. On a side note: In researching the legality of psilocybin mushrooms, it seems that shrooms are illegal to possess, sell, or transport in the US, but “most states” allow the cultivation, and purchase of spores/kits (Design Milk does not condone the purchase or cultivation of psychedelic mushrooms – please consult the laws in your home state).
Also featured are large sheets of handmade paper embedded with seeds. Discovering the idea on Pinterest, Brad adapted the method to make plantable art. Dormant on the walls, each will grow a garden if placed on wet soil. A previous exhibition of his paper works at Loyal Gallery in Sweden included this demonstration of the paper in action, in the middle of the gallery.
Two other series take a slightly more disturbing turn. A dozen “time out dolls” lean against a wall. The sculptures are cute, but I had NO idea that “time out dolls” were an actual thing, or that there is an entire community of makers/collectors. I do appreciate that these anonymous shamed children are in the same room with the shrooms.
Finally visitors with a fear of roaches should not linger at the candy. Two facades of gingerbread houses are sealed in plexiglass boxes, that also contain 1500 roaches each. On display, the insects remain motionless until (so I was told) the gallery staff drops in a couple chunks of fruit. Having already visited the gallery twice now, it’s fun to check back on their “progress”. I just hope the roaches don’t escape to the other room to eat the paper. So far so good.
My enjoyment of this show for me is similar to the experience of surfing Pinterest (except REAL beautiful things in REAL space). It is about things you could do, ideas you love but are not sure how you found, and the hope of repurposing: of metal, vacated ant hills, paper garbage, fabric scraps… and ideas themselves.
BONUS: Brad has requested that you follow him on Instagram. He explains the reason perfectly in the first paragraph of the exhibition press release which also ends with a full list of everything he learned on Pinterest to create the works in this show. It’s worth a read.
What: Brad Troemel: New and Handmade By Me
Where: Feuer/Mesler Gallery, 319 Grand St, 2nd Floor, NYC
When: April 3 – May 8, 2016
All images courtesy of Feuer/Mesler, New York
Detail images of ant tunnels photographed by the author, David Behringer.