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Tessa Farmer lives and works in London. She is the great granddaughter of the influential writer of supernatural horror Arthur Machen. Her work, made from insect carcasses, taxidermy, bones, plant roots, and other found natural materials, comprises complex installations and animations depicting Boschian battles between insects and tiny winged skeletal humanoids. Assembled with the detailed eye of a biologist, these sinister fairies are evolving at breakneck speed. Their corrupted skeletal humanity, imposed on insect dimensions, imparts a wilfully vicious direction to their actions. Focused on world domination, the fairies employ increasingly complex weaponry to rule and enslave by using insect stings, hedgehog spine spears and biological pathways, such as parasitism, seized from the natural world. In recent installations, hymenopteran swarms are directed to attack progressively larger prey. Her work mimics the natural world, revealing the ever fascinating, sometimes violent unseen worlds that lie beneath our feet.

Her work has been exhibited worldwide and is in many collections including those of The Saatchi Gallery, The David Roberts Collection and The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). In 2007 she was artist in residence at the Natural History Museum in London. In 2011 she was awarded a Kindle Project Makers Muse Award that funded a collecting expedition to Chilean rainforests with scientists from the Natural History Museum. Recent exhibitions include Encounters at Museum Aan de Stroom and Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter at The Royal West of England Academy.

Tessa Farmer
is In Wild Air


Nobody Told Me: Poetry & Parenthood

I gave birth to my daughter at the end of last year. Things were difficult at first and I struggled with breastfeeding but persevered through excruciating pain which was apparently ‘normal’. That’s another matter, but I remember the first time I needed to breastfeed her in public I felt overwhelmingly nervous and self conscious. My friend Laura pointed me towards Hollie Mcnish’s powerful performance of Embarrassed, a poem about breastfeeding from her collection Nobody Told Me a raw, poignant, funny and truthful account of parenthood and babies.

For many new mothers, myself included, the first weeks and months are not filled with joy and wonder, but depression, fear, and pain. This poem gave me the confidence to feed my baby whenever and wherever I needed to; pubs, restaurants, shops, park benches, packed buses, and consequently I felt empowered rather than embarrassed and began to embrace and enjoy the experience of motherhood. Thank you Hollie.


Louise Stern

Louise Stern is an artist and writer whose practice spans sculpture, literature, theatre and film and examines ideas of communication, language and isolation.

We met through the fairies over ten years ago when Louise was publishing Maurice, a contemporary art magazine for children which she founded in 2002. Our first conversation in a bustling cafe in South Kensington spanned several hours but no spoken words were exchanged. Louise is fourth generation deaf and doesn’t speak. She communicates with hearing non signing people through handwriting, usually in notebooks but also on whatever scraps of paper are to hand. She often incorporates snippets of these saved conversations into her work. As words are not my forte I found our initial meeting a little discombobulating and remember feeling self conscious about my clumsy thoughts and bad handwriting. Despite this, as my words tumbled onto paper and my focus sharpened, the surrounding cacophony of London faded and this slight disconnection with my reality and insight into Louise’s world felt refreshing and exciting. It helps that she is the fastest writer and quickest thinker I know, utterly engaging, curious and insightful and conversations with her, however brief, are always restorative.

She is also daring and determined. She grew up in an exclusively deaf community in California and having never thought she would live in the hearing world she is now fully immersed in London life, since arriving 15 years ago to study an MA at Sotheby's. Earlier adventures backpacking through Mexico inspired her acclaimed collection of short stories, Chattering about bold and reckless young deaf women, and her visceral first novel Ismael and his Sisters was inspired by time spent in a deaf Mexican village and examines the physicality of sign language. She has just finished shooting a short film commissioned by Channel 4. Set on a tugboat, Boat examines the relationship between a hearing man, a young deaf woman, and a gerbil.

Louise is a fascinating person and an inspiring artist and throughout her diverse practice her keen observation, sharp wit and astute interpretation of both hearing and deaf worlds encourage us to examine ourselves, how we communicate with each other, and essentially what it is to be human.


The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History

Set back from a busy road in Bethnal Green, between a barber’s and a pizza takeaway, the museum, founded by artist Viktor Wynd, evokes the spirit of a Renaissance Wunderkammer, enticing visitors inside with a cocktail bar, taxidermy, animal skeletons, flying kittens, and other oddities. Once inside, a spiral staircase leads downstairs to the main collection which includes a mind boggling array of insects, two headed taxidermy, outsider art, antiquities, mummified creatures, shells, crabs, shrunken heads, erotica, celebrity poo, and pubic hair. At once overwhelming, hilariously absurd, beautiful, and horrific, it is hard to leave quickly, though I hear some visitors run screaming. I love it, and I’ve spent a lot of time downstairs. I find it comforting and inspiring but of course I am used to being surrounded by dead things and personally love gaining insights into Wynd’s mind.

When we first met he offered me a human skeleton in exchange for some fairies. The deal was done and the fairies continue to infest and treat his museum as a playground. He doesn’t seem to mind, in fact he actively encourages the mayhem and blatant vandalism, turning a blind eye and sending us frequent donations, such as a king crab exoskeleton, a giant isopod (Bathynomus), worm shells, coral, and the skeleton of a mystery cloven hooved beast that I haven’t yet rearticulated. A month ago we attended his animal themed wedding (dressed as a family of foxes) and he gave me a woodpecker nest. (I haven’t finished making their wedding present yet, I blame the baby of course). Initially aloof with an air of pretension, Wynd is as engaging as he is generous. His enthusiasm for collecting and thirst for knowledge is contagious and I’ve lost count of the treasures he has passed my way and the pieces his collection has inspired.


Invisible Thread

Sometimes I stand at the top of ladders above my installations staring into space, performing slow motion rave moves with my arms. It might look like some mysterious form of communication or pretentious performance art but rather boringly I’m just unwinding or untangling invisible thread. Obviously you can’t see the thread, so I probably look a bit mad.

I discovered magicians’ thread online many years ago after using my hair to hang fairies became unsustainable. I think it’s my biggest expense and if I were more economically minded I would rewind and reuse thread more often but I take an absurd delight in snipping down in minutes installations that took days or sometimes weeks to hang.

This thread is now so familiar, I’m accustomed to working with it by touch. I can untangle three twisted threads, but above that it’s faster to snip and reattach. The thread drives other people crazy (mainly my mother and sometime assistant). It tangles, tickles, and taunts.

I’m very particular about the type of thread I use; I prefer it non elasticated, stripped, and on cardboard spools. I know that it’s produced in India, and is probably nylon, but I prefer to know as little as possible about its origins. I source it from online magic shops around the world, but it doesn’t seem to be the preferred thread of magicians so isn’t always available. I have an emergency supply of the elasticated version, but my heart sinks when I need to use it. I found a magic shop in Oxford selling the good stuff, but it was overpriced and rationed because I’m not a magician.

To say the thread is essential to my work would be an understatement; my husband and I once broke into our old flat (we had recently moved downstairs and it was still empty) to retrieve a vital parcel containing hundreds of reels.

Each packet comes with instructions for a floating dollar trick but I don’t have the patience to learn and I’m certainly no showman. I’ll leave that to the fairies.


In Praise of Wasps

I find all insects, but especially wasps, endlessly fascinating. Too often maligned, misunderstood, and needlessly killed, they are actually an essential part of the ecosystem, providing important pollination, pest control, and decomposition services. This ignorance is perhaps symptomatic of our increasing disconnection with the natural world.

As well as being beautiful and striking, social wasps are skilled and resourceful architects, using mud or making their own paper to construct exquisite and complex nests.

Ten years ago during a residency at the Natural History Museum, London, I was fortunate to work with Dr Gavin Broad, curator of hymenoptera (bees, ants, wasps and sawflies) and otherwise known as the wasp man. Amongst other hymenopteran wonders, he showed me the museum’s extraordinary wasp nest collection as well numerous drawers of impressive specimens, including the formidable spider hunting pompilid wasps. However I was far more interested in the less remarkable specimens; the parasitoid wasps, and Gavin’s area of expertise. In the UK alone there are over 6000 species but most of them are tiny, some microscopic, or nocturnal and therefore go unnoticed. They surreptitiously lay their eggs through hypodermic needle like ovipositors into live insects (often caterpillars, aphids and other crop pests), their writhing larvae then eating the unfortunate host alive from the inside out before bursting out, leaving behind a sorry dried husk. I spent many happy hours at the museum gazing down a microscope and drawing one such husk punctured with the emergence holes of adult braconid wasps, and another specimen embellished with the tiny silken cocoons of larvae that would have pupated externally whilst the caterpillar was still alive and hopelessly thrashing.

I continue to be delighted and inspired by the ingenious and brutal life histories of parasitoid wasps, and to seek out glimpses of these overlooked yet enthralling miniature dramas of the natural world.


Evil Fairies& Arthur Machen

Most people aren’t aware that fairies are evil. As a child I poured over Cicely Mary Barker’s sweet Flower Fairy books, and dreamed of Thumbelina and Tinkerbell. The latter had a mean streak, but in the middle ages fairies were positively demonic. They were dwarf sized and associated with the dead, demons, and dark unmapped places. The sixteenth century — via Shakespeare and his contemporaries — saw them shrink to the insect sized anodyne beings that we are familiar with now. During the Victorian era they did however retain an edge of mischief and were often portrayed as an antisocial mob, invading the civilized world from a barbaric wilderness, preying upon insects, animals, and even humans. Twenty first century fairies are pretty dull in comparison.

My fairies are an exception. Sinister and sophisticated predators, their origins are firmly rooted in the dark past of fairy history, but as I gleefully discovered several years after they emerged, also in my blood. My Great Grandfather, Arthur Machen, was an important and influential writer of horror and the supernatural, but I wasn’t familiar with his work until a Machen enthusiast pointed out parallels between my fairies and the loathsome fairy creatures that inhabit many of his stories. I felt I had found an ally and a guide into Fairyland.

Machen sought to restore a sense of wonder and mystery into our perception of the world by revealing the beauty hidden beneath the crust of commonplace things. Enchanted by nature, his vision was neither benign nor sentimental, and he had a firm belief in another world beyond the shadows of this one. He strove to rend the veil and to communicate a sense of this secret reality.