There's a definite buzz about her artwork

Even as you read this, the last Brood X cicadas are taking flight and the last nymphs shedding their skins, meaning that local artist Jill Greenberg is collecting her last cicada exoskeletons.

It will be another 17 years until we see these particular cicadas again. But through Greenberg's "electric cicadas," they will live on.


Greenberg, who recently completed post-graduate work at the Maryland Institute College of Art, collects the cicada shells that many of us find repulsive (she has containers full of them in her studio) and uses them to create art. The purpose? To force people "to [see] their own reactions" to the bugs, she says.

Using tiny lights and wires, Greenberg lights up the shells and places them in dark dioramas and other configurations. Her dioramas include a range of other materials, from mirrors that make a few cicadas look like 50 to a tiny businessman action figure that puts a new perspective on the size of the insects.


She says that the glow created by her creations can connote both positive and portentous things, just like the cicadas themselves. "People have a horror of them," she says. "They're grossed out -- I was there once too."

When she began her work more than a year ago using annual cicadas (she's proud to have been ahead of the Brood X madness), she couldn't bring herself to touch the bugs -- she used a fork instead. Even now, she says, "when a live one lands on me, I still let out a little girlish shriek." But, she's also come to respect the bugs, and their life process.

She approaches the work, which she attributes to a "what if, mad scientist mentality," from two sides: a serious one, as seen in her dioramas, and a playful one, which she reveals in her other, wearable works: cicada hats, corsages and boutonnieres. Greenberg exhibited one of her diorama pieces at the Decker Gallery on MICA's campus as part of her master's thesis exhibit in March; another piece was in a MICA departmental show.

She plans to continue working with her "electric cicadas" even after Brood X is gone. Instead, she'll use the annual cicadas that appear every August. And rather than dioramas, she'll be creating installations, hanging hundreds of lit-up cicada shells in small, dark spaces.

Through her art, Greenberg hopes "to reanimate" the cicadas she's come to respect. "The buzzing is dying down," she says, "but my work with cicadas is just beginning."