by Liberty Finch
Let's not kid ourselves, folks … summer is waning, so you’d better soak up as much solar-powered vitamin D as possible in preparation for what lies ahead. As you set your agenda for August’s last hurrah—cramming in camping trips and planning a day at the State Fair—consider an outing to Como Park in St. Paul, where you can placate both your environmental and your artistic sensibilities. Now through the end of the month, a photography installation by Jane Davenport, entitled The Ladybird Chronicles, is on display outside the Conservatory grounds.
Como Park’s been around since 1890 and although several improvements have
been made over the years, the zoo is still akin to animal jail. One quick trip
through the primate building left me as depressed as the two silverback gorillas,
who sat listless and glassy eyed in a room decorated with jungle wallpaper while
a mob of snotty nosed toddlers and picture-phone-totting teens clamored for
a closer look. Two words, people: buzz kill.
more enjoyable are Davenport’s exhibit (a giant outdoor storybook), a
stroll through the Japanese garden or an exploration of the Conservatory itself,
which houses a ceiling-misted fern room and a sunken garden bursting with a
colorful assortment of blooming lilies.
Australian native Jane Davenport calls herself an “artmologist”—a
fusion of artist and entomologist. A self-taught photographer, she plied her
trade in the fashion industry, snapping shots of runway supermodels before turning
her attention from social butterflies to the real thing.
Davenport is a regular contributor to “Burke’s Background,”
Australia’s leading garden and lifestyle magazine, where she writes a
column under the cheeky header “‘Sects in the City.” In 2003,
she became the Artist in Residence at Wollongong Botanic Garden (located south
of Sydney), where she created the body of work that is The Ladybird Chronicles.
A traveling exhibit, The Ladybird Chronicles has been featured in botanical
gardens, zoos and art galleries throughout Australia. It’s been on tour
in the United States since March, and in the fall it will head to Japan.
Thirty large-scale panels comprise this 70-meter-long installation, which tells
the simple, yet inspirational story of a ladybug. It’s a tale of self-discovery,
with underlying messages about the value of community and habitat conservation.
Almost all of the photographs feature a ladybug (Ladybird) in various states—on
a flower, with a praying mantis, eating aphids. In many of the photos Davenport
focuses on the insect, cropping the organic elements around it to create abstract
backgrounds. A distorted rose petal, for example, becomes a hazy magenta blanket.
For general photography, she uses a digital Sony DSC F828 camera, which can
record wide-angle landscapes and take telephoto zoom shots.
One of the most stunning elements of this exhibit is its color. Nature’s
rich and vibrant hues are far superior to any man-made palette, and Davenport
is a master at manipulating the extreme, simple beauty of flowers and insects
with finesse. A periwinkle sky highlights a spray of golden flowers sprinkled
with dozens of red and black ladybugs; a day glo green stick insect morphs into
an alien; a super-sized gerbera daisy becomes a vast pink landscape for the
teeny ladybug delicately perched on its petal.
Large-scale, outdoor, public photography installations have become Davenport’s
trademark. “New technology allows me to put my artwork out into the elements,”
she says. “My first photographic sculpture was created for Sculpture by
the Sea and installed on Bondi Beach [in Sydney]. If a colour photograph can
survive that, anything is possible! I keep on inventing words to describe what
I do and the latest is ‘sculptographer.’”
In addition to creating words and making art, Davenport is director of the nonprofit
Youniverse Foundation for environmental education and also designs her own fashion
The Ladybird Chronicles runs through Aug. 29 on the grounds of the
Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, 1225 Estabrook Dr., St. Paul. 651-487-8200. Como
Park is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Japanese Lantern Lighting
Festival takes place Sun. Aug. 21 from 3 p.m. to dusk.