In the corner of Sarah Vaci’s crowded Devon studio, beyond the piles of yarn, the self-portrait of the artist’s backside, and the decommissioned ambulance stretcher, rests Kim Jong-un.
In the wool fibres of his intricately actualised portrait, a twitching white fleck, the size of a grain of rice, is wrestling its way through his jet-black hair: a clothes moth larvae feasting off the North Korean leader. He is part of Vaci’s Pest and the Profound, a trio of power portraits – Kim, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – whose needle-felted faces will be sacrificed to dozens of hungry larvae in an exhibition this week.
‘Which is the real pest?’ The artist Sarah Vaci. Photograph: Sarah Vaci
When Pest and the Profound opens in a small Torquay gallery this week, the trio – each portrayed against imperial red backgrounds and housed in ornate gilded frames – will be suspended beside one another from a wooden beam, their 11kg portraits dominating the 84 square metre (900 sq ft) space.
“They will appear disembodied; it’s all a bit dystopian.” says Vaci (pronounced Vaa-tzee), as she coaxes another larva through a hatch in the top of Kim’s frame. “I’ve called the work Pest because what I’m hoping the audience might consider is ‘Which one is the real pest – the larvae or the leaders?’”
Over the next 12 months, the tiny wardrobe adversaries should munch their way through the portraits until holes appear. “I’ve always wanted to subvert the way things are seen,” Vaci says. “I’m very interested in the psychology of power and gender. I chose the three biggest egos on the planet and wanted to take them down a peg or two.”
Bugged … a larva of
Tineola bisselliella, the common clothes moth, commutes to work. Photograph: David J Green/Alamy
The work took a year to complete, stabbing each fibre through (insecticide-free) plastic with a barbed needle, akin to tattooing with wool. “Very satisfying,” says the artist,…