The title reveals itself as entirely sensible and poetic here.

The title reveals itself as entirely sensible and poetic here.

My ink drawings were converted to photopolymer plates, which Chelsea ran through the letterpress at San Francisco Center for the Book. 

My ink drawings were converted to photopolymer plates, which Chelsea ran through the letterpress at San Francisco Center for the Book. 

A tiny book about insect dreams

I was fortunate to spend a year delving into the meaning of 'insect dreams' with the amazing book- and printmaker Chelsea Herman.

We were invited to make a tiny book on this theme by entomologist Barrett Klein, who researches the impact of sleep on bees and other insects, and who invited dozens of artists and scientists to contribute to a Cabinet of Insect Dreams. 

Ultimately we decided to explore the concept of archival insect remains--specifically, of the Rocky Mountain Locust--serving as vessels for human memories of western American landscapes.

Left: locust nervous system detail; Right: locust wing cells evoke crop row imagery, and vice versa.

Left: locust nervous system detail; Right: locust wing cells evoke crop row imagery, and vice versa.

Swarms of Rocky Mountain Locusts (Melanoplus spretus) devastated 19th century crops "with as much unconcern as if they had been a part of the elements", according to one pioneer account. The swarms were mistaken for strange weather; confused with fire, vapor, and the wrath of God. The insects ate through corn cobs, fences, and shirts of farmers' backs, while females thrust their ovipositors into farmland until it was "perforated in all directions with innumerable holes." As they swarmed, their bodies changed: nervous systems cued legs to swell with tensile strength and exoskeletons to turn yellow ochre.

Innumerable holes pierce the soft and subtle chaos of fine Usu Kuchi paper, revealing figments of darkness and light in the "system" below. 

Innumerable holes pierce the soft and subtle chaos of fine Usu Kuchi paper, revealing figments of darkness and light in the "system" below. 

Ultimately the settlers won, probably by plowing onward with their farming more-so than with the tarring and burning they attempted to eradicate the locusts. The last swarms came in the 1870's and the last living specimen collected in 1902, but e.T51269349A55309428 wasn't added to the IUCN Red List of extinct species until 2014. The extinction is testament to an era of extreme relocation and drastic re-structuring of the landscape, on the part of humans and insects alike. Memories of this conflict may be marked by remorse, triumph, and a kind of fading nightmare, while a more scientific account of what happened might rely largely on the few remaining specimens. We wanted to layer past and present "dreams" of these swarms with systematic "diagrams" of the many human and animal systems tied up in the chaos and extinction.

I poked a lot of holes and drew a lot of systems, but Chelsea's work really made the book... like, literally. She made a lot of books, actually-- about 40. Stitched them, set the teeny Bulmer lead type, letterpressed my ink drawings, made incredible copperplate etchings for all those underground and swarm scenes. I just came up with the title (for once) and did a lot of drawing and dreaming. But the layering of dreams-- the locusts', the pioneers', the potential collective American public's --that was ours. 

How do you interpret 'insect dreams'?