Levon Biss | The MiND of a Creative Inspiration
Using a sculpture stacking technique, Levon Biss captures the world of insects in whole new light. Splitting the insect into 25 sections, Levon photographs each section under a certain light to illuminate each section of the bug.
He treats each aspect of the insect as its own individual, capturing the beauty of each particle through controlled lighting. With each microsculpture taking from three to four weeks to complete, and with nearly 10,000 overlapped images, it took Levon 3 years to shoot his 37 photo micro sculpture collection.
Working with such precision and focus, Levon Biss has revolutionized the way we see insects. Taking a 4mm sized insect, he creates meter long sculptures that accentuate every magnificent detail of some of the world’s smallest creatures.
MiND had the opportunity to get inside the MiND of Levon to see how and why he was inspired to do what no one else has done before.
What inspires/influences you in your artwork? How do these inspirations translate into your work?
LEVON BISS: My influences are visual design. I like graphic images; I like images with style; I like when people put their personality into their images. I also like technical challenges. If a picture doesn’t take blood, sweat, and tears, then it’s just another picture really. I think you need to work at it for it to have a sense of worth and making sure you’re producing something no one else is. Something that is visually interesting but also has a story behind it- not just a pretty picture.
I work predominantly with insects, but at the moment I am working on a project with microchips and another project with plankton. The insects I usually shoot are long dead: they are part of Oxford University’s collection. Some of the insects I photographed were collected by Charles Darwin in the early eighteen hundreds. The difficulty with plankton is you have to photograph them alive, you can’t photography them dead. They change color within 30- 40 minutes of dying. This brings about the problems of them moving and trying to control them within a liquid space. In high magnification, you have a shallow depth of field. You have to take lots of pictures to get the full focus. Keeping a plankton in the same spot for 20-30 minutes is near to impossible.
Being an artist, what is your personal outlook on life?
LEVON BISS: I’m not what you would say “an artsy-fartsy artist”. They get on my nerves. Any sort of creative process or none creative process, if it’s of quality or merit, is going to be hard work. I completely go against the view that art is just created through the talent of the artist- that’s rubbish. Artist’s need to work hard to perfect that skill. It’s not a god given right.
I think some people are naturally more creative, but it is not a gift to be creative, it’s a way of thinking. Creative people simply approach situations in a different way compared to none creative people and we’ve just bracketed it as creativity. The artists that are successful are the ones you’ll find work the hardest. They are the ones that are prepared to commit themselves to a project fully and not be happy with something that just has a visual beauty. That’s my outlook: hard work, simple as that.
What role does art have in society?
LEVON BISS: I think art gives us a certain amount of freedom, in the sense that I think there are a lot of different levels of art. Art should cater to anyone; from a 3-year-old child to a 90-year-old man and everywhere inbetween, and every different social and economic level. I think what art does is it lets you escape and be free. Art shouldn’t be important. I think that is one of the keys to art.
Sometimes high art and conceptual art goes too far. That type of art can go into a world that is not understood by 99% of the population, including myself. I don’t agree with that kind of art. Art should be open to the masses and it should be able to communicate an idea or a narrative to the person who is looking at it.
Most importantly it should be enjoyable. You have art that is hard hitting, which has its place, but I think that art should be a pleasure source to both the creator and the audience.
Do you believe art can be an inspiration in the retail industry and environments?
LEVON BISS: If you look at art as being design or a creative medium that’s exactly what the retail industry is based on. From the products it sells, to the way the space is designed, the way it promotes its brand; art runs through retail from start to finish. From the very beginning of designing a product, you’re using artistic thinking and artistic skills to the way you’re selling your product instore. In-store retail is a very cleverly designed and there is a lot of artistic thought that goes into it because you are trying to communicate with an audience.
What is the conceptual content of your artwork? What word would you use to describe your work?
LEVON BISS: There’s no big overall conceptual message with my art. More than anything I am just trying to give people a visual experience. There’s no big, grand message saying ‘we’re killing the planet’ or ‘you have to look after insects’. I’ll leave that to somebody else. I just want to provide somebody with an experience they have never had before. That’s the main thing- to make people more aware of nature and their surroundings, and for them to come and look at my work and enjoy it. It is a simple as that.
What piece of your artwork do you most identify with or defines you as an artist?
LEVON BISS: I would never say that I identify with a certain piece but I do like certain ones over another. There was a Shield bug that I shot towards the end of the project and that was collected by Charles Darwin in 1836. To be trusted with an object like that, which has such a historical meaning, validated the project in my eyes. I’m standing here holding this in my kitchen thinking what would he make of these pictures I make out of his collection.
What would you like achieve/ make people feel when they view your artwork?
LEVON BISS: I think people like my work on a number of different levels. They like, firstly, the visual. They enjoy seeing these insects of this sort of scale. To give somebody a unique visual experience is a tricky thing nowadays: these pictures work on that level.
Secondly, people like the process. They like the story of how the images are made. They like understanding that the insect they see on the picture is 4mm in real life. It’s taken almost 10,000 shots to create this 3, or 6, or 7 meter print. I think also people appreciate the hard work and value. They are not easy to make. If they were easy, somebody else would have done it before on this scale.
What do you believe creates a value in art?
LEVON BISS: You have to have a certain vision of what it is you’re trying to produce, but you have to have your own sort of visual identity. The craftsmanship is the skill and the knowledge, the technical side of it, which you’re adding to the pictures. I think that is inherent to it. You have the creative vision at the start, but if you don’t have the craftsmanship to pull it off, it is never going to fulfill its full potential.
How do you see art evolving?
LEVON BISS: Who knows? I think art is going through a different phase at the moment. You have the first fully digital generation coming through. People coming up to 18 years old, which are the next generation of artists. I think that will change their way of thinking, using digital as a platform to not only make your art, but also to express your art and display your art. It’s hard to predict what will happen. It’s been quite a long time since we’ve had such a big jump like the digital age.
Best piece of advice you have ever been given…
LEVON BISS: I once got torn to shreds by a tutor that told me my work rubbish. It was good because I hadn’t put that much effort into the project I was working on. They took my aside and told me, in no uncertain terms, how bad the project was and that I was never going to make anything of myself if I continued like that.
Maybe it wasn’t advice but it told me to work hard and try harder. From that point on, I got the message that you have to work hard. When people ask for my advice now I tell them it’s simply to work hard. If you have the mentality where you can work hard then you can be good at anything.