My immediate reaction upon seeing French artist Aude Pariset’s display of three children’s beds in the booth of Berlin gallery Sandy Brown at Art Basel was that it seemed vaguely creepy but also kind of generous. Children generally do not look too happy at art fairs. Perhaps, I thought, some certified caretakers were on hand so that the youth could sleep or play while their parents shopped, just like at Ikea!
But then I spotted the worms.
Each of the three mattresses sits in a Perspex vitrine that is home to a group of a different kind of locally sourced worms (mealworms, superworms, or waxworms), and they are dining on the plastic or foam inside. This is not an altogether pleasant sight—worms wriggling in a space where one would normally expect to find a small human—but they are enclosed in those boxes (kept alive with little vents) and certainly mean no harm to us.
Pariset, who was born in Versailles, France, and is based in Berlin, has, according to the gallery, themed each bed after a different phase of a child’s development, moving from infancy to early childhood, then to adolescence—note the netting, the SpongeBob nod, and the very cool bunkbed with a digital tablet sitting atop it. Such beds are typically the sites of growth (physical and mental), but here they are slowly wasting away, being consumed. The worms, though, are growing—changing every second. Depending on the species, the heat, and other factors, some will grow into moths or other creatures.
For the short run of Art Basel, the worms will be just be worms, the gallery assured me. They will breathe in the air and savor the plastic or foam that is their food. In the event that someone acquires one of the pieces, things get a bit more complicated. When the living sculptures are on display in museums or public exhibitions, the worms and foam are typically refreshed by Pariset’s studio. When displayed by private collectors, on the other hand, the remnants of the piece are usually shown. How might they look, I wonder, next to the beds of children who have left home?