I Remember Fireflies

We’ve had a seriously cold winter here—and nothing makes me yearn for summer weather more than that! Summertime brings many joys—fresh berries, long days, beach-perfect sunshine. For me, a transplanted West Coaster, there is one element of summer that never ceases to provide intense fascination and childlike glee: seeing fireflies (or lightning bugs, if you’re so inclined). Though my adult brain understands the scientific basis for their bioluminescence, I still consider them special—perhaps magical. I look forward to seeing them every year. In the meantime, I can enjoy them now—in winter!—in the Museum Park.

Houston-based artist Allison Hunter enjoys similar positive emotions toward fireflies, though hers are based in childhood memories. She recalls beach vacations spent watching fireflies as they soared around the sand dunes. “I remember fireflies lighting our path to the seawall at night. Their glowing nature was magical by itself, but combined with our reverie, the fireflies seemed fairylike.” These memories created a sense of longing in Hunter, who, as a Houstonite, rarely sees fireflies now. The urban sprawl and light pollution of large cities foils sightings of such creatures. Is it because of a depletion of habitat? Or is it that the city is too suffused with light to properly see them? Is it a combination?

Hunter’s new video installation in the Museum Park, I Remember Fireflies, reimagines the insects in an ideal environment—a safe habitat where they are able to go through their life cycles in peace. Hunter took a hands-on approach to the creation of her work, filming her “fireflies”—which are created with clay and jeweler’s wire—in stop-motion. The video installation, set inside a birdhouse situated with a glass peephole, seems familiar, yet strange. The video is set to the tune of Mildred Bailey’s 1940s standard “At Sundown.”

The dark environment and our human size (particularly in relation to the tiny insects) further obscure the creatures, a fact that is made more interesting given that we aren’t seeing actual, living fireflies. “The human tries to see but cannot see what is going on inside,” Hunter says. “The intimate life of insects remains a mystery.” And this mysterious nature is the essence of Hunter’s work. In sheltering and re-creating them to her own specifications, Hunter allows her fireflies to come to life in a safe way—anywhere and anytime, in any season and under any weather conditions. So at the NCMA, fireflies are not just for summer—now, they’ll be available for viewing all year round.

Photo caption: Allison Hunter, I Remember Fireflies, 2012, stop-motion animation video with sound,  mini-video projector, speaker, painted wood, clay and wire figures, LED lights, wire mesh, glass, dried leaves, and rear-screen projection material, Courtesy of the artist

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