Photos by Michael Barrett
Artist Trevor Wentworth is used to working small. Before moving back to Jackson six months ago, his New York studio space was crammed with shelves of art supplies neatly packed in Tupperware. His meticulously sorted sculptural paper constructions were all at arm’s length, which he assembled into fantastical futuristic worlds. The artist has more room to work and breathe in his Fondren Corner work space, but his medium remains frozen in miniature. The atmospheres he conjures are architectural models of a time to come, where separations among man and nature and machine are dissolved and blurred like running ink on thin, wet paper.
Imagine looking at a flower under a microscope. Up close, organic shapes are in fact mathematically precise systems of shape and angle and line. What if we were shrunken, like Alice in Wonderland, and flower petals became observation decks? The bee’s honeycomb: steel bulwarks of a sky scraper? A finished environment spans a space somewhere around five-foot square, with multiple cityscapes that top out at about eighteen inches tall. Trevor channels childlike play when he creates. “People say it looks like you make your own Legos,” he said. “And it certainly draws off that. If you’re not playing in your studio, you lose it.”
Trevor sits up late at the computer. On the screen is a grid of yellow rectangles bordered in black. These are some of his building blocks. He prints them out and cuts them up carefully. He glues them together into rods or cubes or whatever shape he’s looking for, stockpiling them for eventual assembly. His materials are humble printed paper, museum board, and occasionally form core. When he makes each engineered component, he makes it a dozen or a hundred times; he’s built a clone army of “robots” that sit on his work table, their bodies like tiny refrigerators about the size of two game die stacked high. They’re yellow and black like bumblebees, the only actors in a scene void of human presence.
Trevor characterizes his art as “future primitive,” whereby an accelerated design phase using modern technology like computers is followed by an extended period of careful craft to assemble the finished product. His completed structures look like 3-D printed masterpieces, and yet every line has been sheared and glued by hand. His work has confused viewers. “How was this made?” With time and patience.
His in-process body of work, loosely titled “Royal Jelly,” is inspired by a bizarre news story from Japan. The decline in bee populations has forced farmers to hand-pollinate their prized cherry blossoms with artist’s paintbrushes. Trevor became fascinated with the implications of the story. In the art, his robotic “artifice bees” work in the hive-like structure as a labor force to pollinate the blossoms. The tiered “observation decks” of the city are highly stylized fractal cherry blossom petals. Core to Trevor’s work is an inversion and splicing of expected paradigms. It’s both high-tech and handmade. Conceptual and tangible. His installations are out of a child’s dream; they house the nostalgia of model-making and pine wood derby and shrunk-to-scale galactic armies. But these are toys that have become tools, reenactments of and blueprints for the inevitable conundrum of the future: how will man and machine and nature coexist?
“Man always wants to see himself as apart from the natural world,” said Trevor. “People see industrial cities as removed from nature, but I’ve always taken the stance that that is just as much nature as a forest. You wouldn’t see a beehive on a tree in a forest and draw a distinction that one is nature and the other not. My machines that are building cities and living on these weird futuristic systems are actually referencing ancient, natural systems.”
There is no separation between man and nature, the art suggests; we are all machines and schematics. Trevor’s imagined worlds show that just beneath the surface, even the most ubiquitous blade of grass or overlooked beehive contains a universe of complex engineering and existential drama. Don’t look to outer space to see his science fictions. They’re grounded in the terrestrial nooks and crannies of our modern experience. We can visit them, if only we’ll look a little closer. o