Black Beercan Butterflies

Paul Villinski: Passage  Blanton Museum, Austin, Texas

Paul Villinski: Passage Blanton Museum, Austin, Texas

In keeping with the theme of transforming trash that I spoke about in yesterday’s post on El Anatsui, here is Paul Villinski’s Passage, currently on display at the Blanton Museum.

Each butterfly (1000 strong) is hand crafted from discarded beer cans, found on the streets of New York; many species  – all anatomically correct.  Seeming like carbon-copies, but each unique.

. . .metamorphosing littered beer cans into flocks of butterflies mirrors the act of transformation and rebirth that butterflies symbolize across all cultures.         P. Villinski

They swirl around a glider model spanning over 20 feet, made of old pallets and other discarded wood.

The joining of the two is ethereal and intriguing.  The juxtapositions are fresh.  The  usually delicate butterfly is now made of metal, aluminum. In nature, gossamer and light, but like metal, withstanding  journeys of a thousand miles.  Fragility’s strength.

The glider seems motionless, while the butterflies have a sense of purposeful movement.  Moving in stillness.

The fascination of flight – both manmade (symbolized in the glider) and natural (the butterflies). Is the plane carrying along the butterflies as they swirl around its skeleton? Or is it they, who are navigating, buoying the plane on the breeze of a thousand wings?

Whiskey river

This shimmering textile sculpture, is actually thousands of metal whiskey labels that the African artist, El Anatsui, has painstakingly “sewn” together bit by bit with copper wire into a quilt of shining color.

El Anatsui Dusasa I

El Anatsui Dusasa I

These pieces are monumental in scale; one was even draped over a building facade.  The sheer magnetism of the metal tapestry draws you to study the intricacy of its construction.  It’s then that the power of the “weaving” hits you. Like the rich colors playing with the light, I think of many things.

  •  The painstaking and creative construction. This is a humble piece of trash here. Folded, twisted, made into rectangles, squares, circles and joined together by hand, one by one.
  •  The enormous number of labels. Soooo many of these liquor bottle labels, the ubiquity of them, suggests the people in Ghana and Africa, are drinking a lot of whiskey.
  • The labels are in English, not African languages, so this whisky is imported from abroad and whispers of imperialism and the immense sadness it has wrought on Africa. However this grief sounds more like a deep throb in the heart of this piece rather than a shout of anger.
  •  This “trash”  is transformed. The sum, greater than its parts.  We are all part of this cloth. Each one, a piece in a shining whole.  The inter-connectedness of us all.  The power and diversity of the African spirit / human spirit – a glittering tapestry (despite the drunken folly).
El Anatsui, Fading Scroll ( detail), 2007 Aluminum and copper wire

El Anatsui, Fading Scroll ( detail), 2007 Aluminum and copper wire

The light plays with the waves and folds in the metal cloth and mesmerizes you. They drape and change with each installation, giving it new life.  The light reflects and scatters into a thousand mirrors. I imagine it taking a mystical quality like a magic carpet or a waving banner of hope.