Tessa Farmer, Swarm (2004)

No, your eyes do not deceive you. Those really are tiny winged skeletons riding on the back of a dragonfly. And there are a hundred or more spectacles like this in Swarm by Tessa Farmer.

They give the impression of an airborne war, as if the skeletons are fighting for control of their glass cabinet. Which makes the artwork a theatre of conflict. Perhaps those fragile, hideous creatures are critics.

But in fact, the gallery guide suggests they are fairies. Each one is a dessicated tinkerbell. The hope you might have cherished in secret, for a more magical world, is here turned inside out.

And the wonder you might feel at such painstaking work soon turns to horror when you consider the results. No one wants to see dead insects, and bony fairies with fly wings attached, surely?

Except of course, many people really do. This piece seems to fascinate visitors to the gallery. If art is a mirror, this example of it shows a spectral, parasitic species fighting over thin air.

It is not a million miles from a battle in a desert, a debate in parliament, a war of words conducted online, or any struggle between ideas first dreamed up by those already passed away.

Swarm can be seen in Newspeak: British Art Now Part Two at Saatchi Gallery until 17 April 2011.

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