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Beautiful bugs descending on the city

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Between the fires and storms our region has endured over summer, are you surprised to know that we are in the midst of a giant insect invasion?

But don’t panic, these are the most beautiful bugs you are ever likely to see—or hear.

Award-winning conceptual artist Nicholas Tory has unveiled his latest immersive project for the Canberra Centre—the “Mini Beasts”.

As part of Canberra Centre’s contribution to the Enlighten Festival—and to bring some of the colour and movement into the city—Nicholas was commissioned to create a work that would cause people to stop and stare.

He was inspired to come up with a hybrid between nature and technology—a gesture-controlled humming Neon Cuckoo Bee, an enormous proximity-activated Swallowtail Butterfly, and a touch-sensor-triggered singing Cicada.

Credit: Ashley St George / Pew Pew Studio.

Located in and around Canberra Centre (two inside the centre and one outside in the North Quarter), these giant insects are a feast for the senses and are on display to the general public ahead of a national tour.

For Nicholas and his team of designers and artists based at his Ample Projects studio in Sydney, the Mini Beasts are the result of thousands of hours of work.

Designed and modelled in 3D first, each creature was then the subject of hundreds of rendered plans and elevations for the steel artisans before handmade steel frames were forged, hand-shaped and then welded together.

Credit: Ashley St George / Pew Pew Studio.

The cicada has 3D printed eyes, the bee has 3D printed antenna caps. Each mini beast has a lighting system, a power delivery system, a sound system, an interactive sensor input system, and a lighting design and control system, all hand-assembled and completely custom made from parts for the project.

Credit: Ashley St George / Pew Pew Studio.

The butterfly has 2800 lights in its body and wings and over 1km of cabling. Triggered by a laser-powered proximity sensor, the viewer can activate lighting displays combined with music and sound playback designed by Ample Studio’s composer Jonathan Nix as they approach the sculpture.

Credit: Ashley St George / Pew Pew Studio.

At four metres tall, the butterfly’s double-sided pixel mapped wings are inspired by real microscope photography of iridescent butterfly wings, and the high-resolution effect is immersive, as the wings appear to come alive with refracted light.

The Neon Cuckoo Bee has approximately 1500 lights, and two laser sensors in her antennae making her interactive. The viewer can manipulate the lighting displays and sound playback individually without touching the sensors by moving their hand or body towards and away from the ends of the antennae. The bee hums with sympathetic music and sound effects, resulting in a dialogue between user and Mini Beast.

The iridescent cicada has 600 lights and 6 touch panels on its wings that trigger cicada song.

Textile technician Leah Benson designed skins and coverings that are hand-sewn and glued to the steel exoskeletons—the materials were sourced from a wide range of places and were inspired by a wide range of sources including nature, science fiction, craft, and haute couture fashion design.

While the last-minute preparations to get these beasts ready for their installation on Friday led to some sleepless nights for Nicholas and his team, it was a triumphant culmination of years of work—as Mini Beasts was actually first conceived in 2018.

Having also produced Canberra Centre’s Enlighten installation “Jellyfish Bloom” in 2018, Nicholas said he was acutely aware “we had to do something ‘next level’ this time around, which means that everything on this highly complex project was new to us in one way or another”.

“It’s very gratifying to see the result, and full credit to Canberra Centre for trusting us with this project, as work like this is labour intensive and therefore not cheap.”

He noted that while the work presents as technologically driven, “hopefully people see it and ultimately think ‘insects are extraordinary, I want to know more about them, and what role do they play in our world?’”.

Credit: Ashley St George / Pew Pew Studio.

The ‘Mini Beast’ installations will be featured in multiple locations at the Canberra Centre until Wednesday 25 March.

As part of the installation, Canberra Centre has an interactive map for children to explore and understand the nature of the beasts.

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