All Around Us, at Wood Street Galleries, explores our relationship with insects | Art Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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All Around Us, at Wood Street Galleries, explores our relationship with insects

Live roaches, crickets and bees are involved

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Art, biology and technology are often conjoined nowadays, but seldom more literally than in Garnet Hertz’s Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot. The Canada-based researcher’s bucket-sized, three-wheeled machine is guided by a Madagascar hissing cockroach harnessed atop a ball, and immersed in a virtual environment where it’s guided by light cues indicating real-world obstacles. The ball translates the motion of the roach’s legs into machine motion. It’s a robot whose microcontroller has been replaced with a live insect, raising questions about the nature of a cyborg and whether the insect controls the machine, or vice versa.

At All Around Us: Installations and Experiences Inspired by Bugs, the robot is displayed, its operations depicted on video, its locomotive force represented by a tankful of the two-inch-long roaches (alive if currently unemployed). It’s one way that this Wood Street Galleries international group show, curated on two floors by artist and Carnegie Mellon University professor Ali Momeni, interrogates our relationship with insects.

Momeni’s “Observation Hives I and II” are active beehives, both in vitrines. Projected time-lapse videos document changes in the hive. But in the room day-lit through Wood Street’s seldom-exposed windows, I preferred to watch the bees themselves — there are thousands per colony — that exited the gallery through a transparent tube into the concrete heart of Downtown, and then returned, hindquarters laden with pollen, to continue building home.

Ivana Adaime Makac’s “Le Banquet” incorporates farm-raised crickets (normally sold as pet food) into arty, evolving terrarium sculptures made of floral foam and “fruit, flowers, vegetables and different types of food” — including marshmallows and marzipan. Whether as a comment on pet-keeping or on rescue animals, it is oddly fascinating; a few crickets sang away.

Biologists from the University of Pittsburgh’s Morehouse Labs contribute “Courtship in the Jumping Spider Habronattus pyrrithrix,” an engrossing video depicting this beautiful North American spider’s courtship dance at sports-bar-TV size.

The couple of promising exhibits that weren’t working when I visited included a Momeni collaboration that lets you don a fly costume, and “See Like a Bug” with virtual-reality goggles.

Then there’s Jennifer Angus’ “Justified By Love”: four walls of dried moths and the husks of mantises, with velvet flower blossoms and full-sized plastic deer trophy heads, all arranged in patterns like mandalas, or wallpaper. It’s a creepy, sobering memento mori.

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