Selected works by Tessa Farmer

Tessa Farmer


Mixed media

Vitrine: 208.3 x 243.8 x 68.6 cm

Made from desiccated insect remains, dried plant roots, and other organic ephemera, Tessa Farmer’s tiny sculptures give a glimpse into the world of fairies. No story book land of Tinkerbells, Farmer’s Swarm envisions the purveyors of mischief and magic as an actual species, as animalistic and Darwinian as any other. Exchanging Victorian romanticism for the darker pragmatism of science, Farmer evidences her specimens as fearsome skeletal fiends, plausible “hell’s angels” of a microscopic apocalypse. Posed in dramatic battle formations, Farmer’s menagerie wages war against garden variety pests; each figure, painstakingly hand crafted and adorned with real insect wings, stands less than 1 cm tall.



“As the chemist in his experiments is sometimes astonished to find unknown, unexpected elements in the crucible of the receiver, as the world of material things is considered by some a thin veil of the immaterial universe, so he who reads wonderful prose or verse is conscious of suggestions that cannot be put into words, which do not rise from the logical sense, which are rather parallel to than connected with sensuous delight. The world so disclosed is rather the world of dreams.”

Arthur Machen, ‘The Hill of Dreams’, 1907
Tessa Farmer creates microscopically detailed sculptures – collectively named ‘hell’s angels’ and ‘fairies’. Their intricate skeletal forms are crafted from organic material including tree roots and insectile remains. Like the Wright sisters, she presents objects not as the result of exceptional ingenuity but as ‘found objects’. The artist describes herself as an intermediary, like a Victorian naturalist bringing a newly discovered species to public attention. These fairies are presented as being simply parts of the natural world that have yet to be classified. As the artist remarks, “the first fairy emerged, foetal life, from deep inside a vibrant red tulip… the first swarm invaded Oxford during June 2000, and were to return three years later, having evolved and shrunk to the size of small insects…” The artist’s extraordinary creations appear as phantasms or apparitions in our immediate field of vision, inspiring both genuine wonder and amazement, as the Wright sisters’ fairies did a century earlier.

They’re ordinarily too small to view properly without a magnifying glass, forcing us to inspect them at an extreme and unnervingly close range. Her battalions of warring angels are each some ten millimetres tall, and often seen in intense combat swarming around ‘real’, found insects. Presenting her own ‘new’ species alongside ‘real’ flies and wasps blurs the boundaries between the fantastical and the natural. Seen at an uncomfortable proximity, our eye accepts the continuity between the two, and reads the fairies as sensate, animate beings. The artist’s ability to endow raw materials with a life-force brings to mind Emile Zola’s dictum that “the artist’s struggle with reality… is in trying to make something that ‘lives’”. It is almost impossible to distinguish between the organic ‘raw materials’ in front of our eyes and the fantasies that we want to believe in.