3,000 black butterflies make for A Dark Day in Paradise for Clare Twomey at Brighton Pavilion

By Mark Sheerin | 17 June 2010
Black ceramic butterflies on an ornate fruit bowl

(Above) Clare Twomey, A Dark Day in Paradise (detail). Photo © Matthew Andrews

Exhibition: Clare Twomey – A Dark Day in Paradise, Brighton Pavilion, Brighton until January 16 2011

Brighton Royal Pavilion is currently housing an artwork every bit as excessive as its exotic décor or the lavish banquets once held there.

Clare Twomey has moulded 3,000 ceramic butterflies, each one finished by hand, and placed or suspended them throughout the Regency palace.

The aim is not to enhance the splendour of the setting, but rather to critique the self-indulgence of the man who commissioned the grand design, George IV.

The Prince Regent was more than a bon viveur. George was a gambler, an erotomane, a gourmand and a spendthrift. Twomey's butterflies, it should be pointed out, are black.

A swarm of black butterflies framed by windows of a banquet hall

Clare Twomey, A Dark Day in Paradise (detail). Photo © Matthew Andrews

The artist has massed the vast majority of her delicate creations in the dining hall and the kitchen, where they nest en masse on the tables, suggesting locusts or flies.

Her butterflies have been cast in five different sizes with wings at varying angles, giving the effect of movement and commotion.

Many appear trapped in the lanterns and windows or have been coughed out by one or more of the building's fireplaces. The scenes could be from a Hitchcock movie.

If that is the case, the victim of this plague is the monarch who once revelled here. The building took eight years to complete, by which point George had only two more visits left in him.

He died in 1830, aged 58, and several of the menacing lepidoterans have come to rest on his deathbed. Life's pleasures are then as fleeting as the days of a butterfly.

400,000 visitors stream through the Pavilion every year, which is a swarm in itself, to see a monument built by one of the town's first tourists. It is hard not to read the work as a comment on this phenomenon.

Whatever the case, they are now an added attraction to one of Brighton's favourite destinations.

Open 9.30am-5.45pm. Admission £5.40-£9.50.

The project is one of a number of craft interventions in the East of England funded by Museumaker. See their website for more information.

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