In conjunction with the exhibition “Defying Gravity: Contemporary Art and Flight”, Helmick and his collaborator, Stu Schechter, were commissioned by the North Carolina Museum of Art to create a work of art with references to flight in both content and form.
The sculpture is comprised of nearly 1200 slowly moving component elements depicting over a dozen species of butterflies that collectively form an image of an F-35 joint strike jet fighter.
Some experts in the field of aviation believe the F-35 will be the last generation of manned fighter. Rabble therefore serves as a bookend for the Wright brothers’ achievement, but also marks another step in the literal de-humanization of warfare.
The steeply banking plane is caught in mid-flight, frozen in time yet filled with the slow fluttering movement of individual butterflies. Floating behind the plane are contrails of brightly colored silk flowers.
On close inspection, viewers may detect portraits on the wings of some of the butterflies. For example, a likeness of Leonardo da Vinci is found in the black-on-orange tracery of the Monarch. In all, an international group of over fifty individuals pertinent to the scientific, political and cultural histories of flight are embedded..
In Rabble an immensely heavy, metallic, industrially manufactured machine is transformed into a visually porous, ephemeral, animated construction of flickering, delicate, vibrantly hued natural forms.
A hallucinatory synthesis of manmade and natural flight, the sculpture embodies the fact that the evolution of flight has always been a double-edge sword. In the artists’ words, Rabble is “a conversation between two kinds of rapture–natural and technological–with all the beauty and terror inherent in each”.
Rabble is a collaboration with Stu Schechter.