Sacred Spaces

Life is seen through many prisms in Christopher Marley’s Biophilia.

Collect, preserve, design, arrange—that’s Christopher Marley’s pattern of performance. As an artist, Marley offers a perspective on nature that’s more corporeal than conceptual. It manifests itself in clean lines and axes—orbiting specimens that have passed from life to deities of art.

It all began with a young naturalist’s dislike of insects. As a child, Marley was disgusted by the earth’s most prolific creatures: the six-legged vermin that filled his world. But revulsion turned to reverence as Marley unraveled their intricacies and their elegance. By the time he became an artist, he had fully succumbed to their wavering textures and fantastic hues, and had begun molding his collections of insects into gleaming, three-dimensional masterpieces. His infatuation with feral symmetry grew until it morphed into a love of all living things: biophilia.

The same word is the title of Marley’s new book, a tribute to wildlife (and minerals, too). Biophilia opens with a lavish selection of insects: cuckoo wasps, ant lions, lantern flies, and scarabs. But then it meanders through ranks of urchins, cobras, ammonites, rosatites, Amazonian frogs, and orchids. Not everything is arranged as a mosaic; many specimens stand alone or are ensconced in frames. Marley casts parrots, parakeets, and cockatoos—given to him by his father, a bird breeder, after they died of natural causes—with their tails and wings fanning out and their heads hung out of view. It’s all part of a marvelous display, one that silences any notion that the natural vessel is worthless after death. 

Biophilia, by Christopher Marley, Abrams Books, 288 pages, $50. Buy it at Pheromone Gallery.