Memorial carvings have been some of the most touching ones that I have produced. Making a piece to remember somebody who is no longer with us is obviously not always a happy thing, but seeing how moved their friends and family are by it can be very rewarding as well. This plaque was installed in a school in Bristol to remember a former pupil who loved nature and I felt quite lucky that his mum and his friends were there to see it installed.
Sometimes, the piece of wood to be used is supplied and it can be an unusual shape, which many computer-controlled engraving machines wouldn’t be able to deal with. For me, it’s just an interesting challenge. One example would be this oak ball, which was to be used as the stopper on a carafe.
I’m also frequently asked to provide inscriptions on the work of other makers. The very talented furniture maker Sue Darlison needed a carving on one of her stunning benches and asked me if I could do it. I was more than happy to. The name and the inspiration for the design came from the lovely smile of the person who was being remembered.
These sculptures were inspired by research into creating insect/machine hybrid creatures for military use, currently being conducted in the United States by the government-sponsored organisation known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The project is known by the acronym ‘HI-MEMS‘ (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems).
The aim of the HI-MEMS project is to install devices into insects during the pupal or larval stages of their development, allowing them to be used in military surveillance ( and presumably attack) operations. Although many entomologists are very sceptical about the chances of success, billions of dollars have been allocated to fund this research. All of the sculptures use design elements taken from existing insects, combined with a bit of theatre, to explore what might happen when humans interfere in this way with creatures that have existed for a lot longer than we have.
Given the short lives and the amount of offspring that insects can have, I’d imagine that it would make more sense to implant tiny nano factories that could replicate themselves as well as producing the devices to be implanted, rather than the devices themselves. These would then be passed down through the generations. However, such technology would be very difficult, if not impossible, to control in the outside world. If both insects and devices evolve and change; for example, by devices moving into other creatures through the food chain, what would happen? What creatures would evolve to feed on them?
I imagine this insect to have been developed to be attracted to and to cut up calcium-rich cement, so being used in swarms to take out bunkers and other defences. When there are no more bunkers, it would cut up bones.
Not all of the metainsects are for military purposes though. This is the record-playing ‘Gramophone weevil‘.
‘Gramophone weevil’ is one of a series of sculptures combining my interests in Zoology and woodcarving. The entire piece was made from timber collected, with permission, from Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire. The ‘vinyl’ is actually charcoal dust cast in resin (and in case you are wondering, I haven’t tried playing it!)
‘Gramophone Weevil’ imagines a future world where modified insects, produced for a particular short-lived role, are easier to come by than scarce vinyl records. This creature has been engineered and produced to play records until it needs to be replaced. The mouthparts are purely adapted to hold the needle that plays the vinyl, as it doesn’t have to feed to perform its function.
The sculpture reflects my concerns about some current research projects (specifically the US Defence Department’s HI-MEMS project), which look to engineer insects into tools for human use. Considering how much longer insects have been around on this planet, I can’t see success in such endeavours ultimately ending well for humans in general.
This particular piece was also partly inspired by the amazing VW camper record player in Money Mark’s ‘Hand in your Head’ video.
‘Scorpion fly’ is one of a series imagining the potential results of the ‘HI-MEMS’ project, currently being undertaken by the US Defence Department. This project is trying to find a way to implant controlling and offensive technologies into insects.
Although most entomologists are sceptical about the chances of success, billions of dollars have been poured into this project.
Given the huge numbers of offspring that each insect could potentially produce, I reasoned that the ultimate goal would have to be to implant nanofactories, rather than individual nanodevices to perform whatever job is required of the insect. These tiny factories could then make reproductions of themselves as well as whatever device they were designed to make, with the new factories becoming implanted into the insect’s offspring and so continuing the process.
Of course, with both insects and technology reproducing the potential for mutation and rapid evolution also increases, as well as the chances of technologies crossing between species. It would be very hard to keep control of such a process and humans don’t have a great record of keeping control of interventions in the natural order: cane toads in Australia being an obvious example.
If such creatures could breed and evolve, what would they become?