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Moths and other hexapods- With artwork by Mielle Harvey

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I have an ambivalent relationship with moths.
As a child when I would come home, having visiting my Iranian father every second weekend, the first thing my German mother would do was throw all the contents of my bag into the washing machine. She was afraid that the enduring cohabiters of my father’s apartment would conquer her territory too. True enough, sometimes one or two moths would lazily flutter out of my overnight bag, sending my mother into hectic jumping fits in pursuit of the enemy. Back then I didn’t quite understand why there was so much fuss over these small, harmless looking creatures but I naturally began to eye them more and more suspiciously in my father’s lodgings. My mother claimed that they travelled inside the parcels my father received from his family in Iran, which were filled with Persian halva, sohan (a kind of saffron candy), salted and roasted pistachios and pumpkin seeds, dried black lime, spices and other essential components of an Iranians’ eating habits. I don’t know where the moths actually came from, but they were indeed everywhere. Sometimes my father would set a few of his singing birds free for a while to hunt them down, but there was always a fresh supply.

Today I still get a whiff of a panic attack when I spy a Cloth or Food Moth in our apartment, however I can also enjoy the beauty of some other species of the same kind too.
Early this summer I found a huge, odd pupae whilst I was on my hunt for slugs in the garden. Having inspected the curious creature, I laid it back under a leaf. The next day I went to see if it was still there and when I discovered the pupae to be empty, I saw this beautiful fella sitting on a flower just 10 cm from where it had hatched. It sat there on the exact same spot for two days and two nights and then it was gone.

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The colours were amazing, such a vibrant, almost neon, pink which perfectly combined with a soft mossy green. The drawing on its back was very special too and I couldn’t help but wonder why nature had made the creature this way. It is called the Elephant Hawk Moth or Deilephila Elpenor and it seems to come from Britain.

Another moth arrived a couple of days ago: a stunning silver moth pin made by Mielle Harvey. I have loved Mielle’s art jewellery ever since my first encounter with it. Her sensitive way of capturing the essence of the animal she is creating- in life or in death- truly touches me. In May this year we visited Mielle and her husband in Providence. This was a great chance for me to see her amazingly detailed drawings and paintings, as well as her new jewellery project called The HEXAPODA Collection. It is a collection of wearable insects; brooches, earrings, rings and cuff links are skillfully modeled in wax, multiple-casted in silver or bronze and then hand painted or patinated. At first glance they appear very realistic, you might even think she casted or electroformed the real insects, but when you have a closer look you can definitely discover Mielle’s own vision of the creatures.

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It took me a long time to decide which jewellery piece I wanted to own the most, but I finally decided upon the white tiger moth pin, perhaps just maybe to give my relationship with moths another chance. I know that I am going to wear this one a lot!

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I asked Mielle a few questions about her work:

Carina: How did you get involved with art?

Mielle: I was raised by artistic parents, so my background in the arts started early. My parents met in art school, and my mother was studying cinematography when I was born. She apparently took me with with her to the film editing room when I was an infant, so I guess I had a very early exposure to the arts! As a young child I had already decided to pursue a life and career in the visual arts, and I aspired to go to art school. I have always loved exploring the outdoors, and drawing and making objects has provided a way for me to examine and try to understand the world since an early age. Not much has changed in that regard.

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Carina: What themes do you pursue in your work?

Mielle: I use my work to express my thoughts about life, death, and re-growth and our relationship towards nature. I see my work as a sort of visual elegy and a reminder not to take life for granted.
Throughout my work, I try to conjure empathy and wonder. I am obsessed by the intrinsic beauty and mystery of nature. Working with nature as a topic is my way of both contemplating, and commenting on, human existence. I feel that the human relationship to nature is out of balance, and use my art as a means of expressing this. I use jewellery as a medium for exploring ideas about power, value, beauty, sentiment, and other concepts inherent to adornment.
The elements of nature I depict are intended to convey a sense of the actual subject, while also functioning as allegories for larger concepts. I hope that by addressing complicated issues like fragility and mortality I can embolden the viewer, or wearer of a piece to treasure the loveliness and fleeting quality of life.

Bird for the Hand, bronze, 11.5cm

Carina: You started with creating art jewellery, now you are also drawing and painting. Are these media equally important for you? Are you addressing different issues with different media?

Mielle: Drawing has always been a critical, but less public part of my practice, and I have always been fascinated by painting. For me, all the mediums are connected, or perhaps even inseparable.
The themes that drive my work remain constant, and I am always experimenting with new ways of communicating them. Working with the same topics in different mediums such as jewellery, drawing, and painting allows more room to explore ideas, and I enjoy how the techniques then influence each other. The skills I learned through studying jewellery allow me express ideas in an intimate and detail-oriented way that is very special to the field, and I bring this sensibility to my drawings and paintings. Likewise, I am intregrating drawing and painting techniques in my jewellery work. While I create each object to stand on its own, I also invision the pieces displayed together, telling a multi-faceted story.

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Carina: You are very drawn to insects. What do you find so fascinating about them?

Mielle: Insects are a starting point from which I create objects that challenge expectation and provoke emotion. Insects play a critical role in sustaining life as we know it, and are a perfect example of the beauty and wonder in nature that we so often over-look.
My work based on insects actually began as a means of questioning ideas about beauty in adornment. Because I’m aware that many people find insects frightening and repulsive, I wanted to utilize this reaction as a way of challenging the viewers’ expectations about what is beautiful. By using precious materials and depicting insects as valuable objects to be worn, I strive to elevate their status, and make the viewer aware of their intrinsic beauty and value.
To hopefully raise even greater awareness of such issues through jewellery as communicative medium, I have been working on a dedicated collection of insect-related pieces called The Hexapoda Collection (Hexapoda being Greek for six legs).
My work does not use actual insects, rather they serve as “models” for the pieces, which I sculpt in wax. Sculpting the pieces is crucial for me, as it compels me to observe the insects very closely, and allows me to emphasize those aspects that support the ideas I want to convey. I purposely do not prettify them. Instead, I emphasize their mysterious qualities, or even those aspects which we can find most troubling. For me, beauty in art is often intertwined with ugliness.

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Carina: How has your practice changed over time?

Mielle: The themes that interest me have remained largely the same, however my approach to addressing them has evolved. Over time I have  delved into ways of integrating the different facets of my practice including: jewellery, painting, sculpture, and drawing into a consolidated and multi-faceted body of work. Simultaneously, I have finding exciting ways to cross-pollinate these different mediums to create unique hybrids.

Carina: Thank you!

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Large Dead Bird

Images:
1 Mielle Harvey: Moss and Lichen on Bark, 2005; Oil on canvas, 58,5 x 45,7 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
2 , 3 Photos: Carina Shoshtary
4/ 5 Mielle Harvey: Cockroach (The Hexapoda Collection), brooch; Lost wax cast bronze, patina, protective varnish; 6,0 x 5,1 x 1,3 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
6 Mielle Harvey: Bumble Bee (The Hexapoda Collection), pendants; From left: Lost wax cast bronze, silver and silver with gold, patina, protective varnish, 3, 2 x 2,5 x 2, 0 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
7 Mielle Harvey: Carpenter Ant (The Hexapoda Collection), earrings; Lost wax cast silver, patina, protective varnish; 1,9 x 1,9  x 1,9 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
8 Mielle Harvey: Tiger Moth (The Hexapoda Collection), label pin; Lost wax cast silver, patina, protective varnish; 2,1 x 1,6 x 1,3 cm; Photo: Attai Chen
9 Mielle Harvey: Bees Enter Box; brooch, 2011; Lost wax cast silver, patina, oil paint, 18k gold; 3,8 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
10 Mielle Harvey: Bird for the Hand, sculpture, 2012; Lost wax cast bronze, patina, wax; 11,5 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
11 Mielle Harvey: Silver Scene- Specimen II, pendant, 2015; Sterling Silver, patina, oil paint, silk cord, 3,8 x  5,0 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
12 Mielle Harvey: Red Underwing Moth (The Hexapoda Collection), pendant; Lost wax cast bronze, patina, protective varnish; 6,0 cm x 4,0 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
13 Mielle Harvey: Branch, 2006; Oil on canvas; 152 cm x 91,5 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey
14 Mielle Harvey: Large Dead Bird, pendant, 2009; Lost wax cast silver, string; 10,1 cm; Photo: Mielle Harvey

Text edit: Hayley Grafflin

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