Alexander James: Watery works and winged wonders make for a natural attraction
Alexander James specialises in submerging sculptural installations underwater and photographing them (without digital enhancement). He works with a South American butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) that falls into a coma when the temperature drops.
By refrigerating these small creatures, attaching them to silk thread when they conk out and then weighing them down in huge tanks of water, James has photographed them in all their splendour (“the colour bleaches out in daylight”) so that the velvety lustre of their wings becomes vivid. The butterflies are then dried off, warmed up and continue to fly around “and have absolutely no idea” about their submersion.
As an entomologist, he breeds rare specimens that can survive his strange photographic techniques. The artist's emphasis on life is surprising considering the bulk of his oeuvre shows a fascination with 17th-century Dutch vanitas paintings filled with images of death, decay and memento mori. But James also takes beautiful flowers and, using primer (such as urine) to expose the fibrous threads within their petals, keeps them alive underwater.
Animal hospitals also donate recently dead foxes, badgers and other wildlife to James. “They have been put to sleep because nothing can be done. It's terribly sad,” he says. “But then you put them in the water and their fur becomes saturated and their bodies suddenly look so tender – and really alive.”
Alexander James: Intersection, the Studio Building, London W11 (distilennui.com/blog) 26 April to 25 May
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant