Like a 1950s invasion film where measly insects have been radiated into giant monsters, the world looks utterly out of balance at the Atlanta Botanical Garden this summer. The mondo dragon fly, ladybug, bumblebee and 13 other insects were created by Long Island artist David Rogers for Big Bugs & Killer Plants, an exhibition of man-made insect sculptures paired up with the Hannibal Lecters of the plant world: Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews.
Though giant-size, the bugs – crafted from natural material such as fungus, hardwoods and vines – in fact represent helpmates to humankind. They pollinate. They eat peskier bugs. But benevolence is all about scale. Try telling a 3-year-old looking up the snout of a trio of Rogers' ants as tall as Sherman tanks that they mean no harm. Rogers' insects run the aesthetic gamut from those bewitching, creeping ants and a sleek, towering praying mantis to the ho-hum assassin bug that looks a little too much like some weekend wood carver's yard art.
Big Bugs & Killer Plants is smaller in scale and spectacle than most of the Garden's previous exhibitions of model-railroad trains or Dale Chihuly breakables. It's not a blockbuster. Its sights are far lower: about 3 inches and sucking on a sippy cup.
Next to the spectacle of the Big Bugs, the exhibition's puny – albeit ravenous – Killer Plants are like a comedian performing in a strip club. The pitcher plants et al are really going to have to bring it.
There is just something inherently thrilling to the human brain about a world rendered giant-size. The mondo bugs look frightening but are as inert as a Manet. If you are a fly, gnat, or in some cases rat or small bird, it's the plants you need to look out for. They capture their prey via drowning, sticky trap, vacuum and spring trap in the diverse litany of death-by-plant.
Though spectacular scale is not on their side, the thing the plants do have going for them is their interactivity; in special education zones, conservation coordinator Carol Denhof says of their touchability: "Kids can molest them! Adults can molest them! We have lots of back-ups."
She isn't kidding. There's a whole greenhouse at the garden filled with the tiny murderers. It's hard to visit without thinking of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All those plants. Waiting.
David Rogers' Big Bugs & Killer Plants. Through Oct. 31. $12 adults; $9 seniors and children 3-17; free for members and children under 3. Tues.-Sun., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. The Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave. 404-876-5859. www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org.
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