Bugging Out

Theater of Insects exhibit gives mesmerizing performance at the Museum of Art and Photography

How does a scene painter for the San Diego Opera turn out one of the most fascinating bug exhibits around?

Jo Whaley, whose combined her unmatched theater experience as a creator of stage sets with her quirky look at nature has done so with a mesmerizing exhibition at the Museum of Art and Photography at Balboa Park.

"Jo Whaley: The Theater of Insects" runs through Sept 27.  It's not just any display of  bug photographs. Whaley's images of bugs are real the but background is made up. In fact, she puts her insects on a stage, literally . That's where her background in scenic art comes in.

Whaley creates a painted backdrop -- a stage for her bugs, made from props --  to stage brochure material to metal materials. She's inspired by museum dioramas, which are small models of a real-life scene. She then places the insect on the stage and  photographs it. The labor is intense, according to Aki Martin, the museum's marketing communications coordinator.

"It's a great juxtaposition between what's manmade and nature, between the natural and artificial," Martin said. "It creates a very interesting dichotomy. Her work has wide appeal. Not only do photography enthusiasts, but people with entomology interests admire the beauty of her work."

And, of course, what kid doesn't like bugs!

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