Matthew Gray Palmer of Friday Harbor, Washington, created “All Things Within All Things” in 2010. He playfully illustrates our interconnection with each other by incorporating one of the largest terrestrial mammals, an elephant with one of the most delicate wind-bound insects, the butterfly. The sculpture is fabricated in aluminum and measures approximately 16’ long, 7’ wide, with a 10’ shoulder height. An elegant linear armature that loosely follows the organic volume of the elephant has been welded and forged to provide structural stability. Spanning the spaces of the armature are over 6,000 butterfly silhouettes plasma-arc cut from sheets in thicknesses ranging from 1/8”–3/16” then hand forged and shaped to complete the surface of the elephant. A large (18” wing span) golden butterfly with elephant wings is cast in aluminum and gilded with 24k gold and rests on the elephants spout.
As visitors approach the main entrance of the Virginia Zoo they are greeted by the massive life-size African elephant with its trunk inquisitively raised. The artwork is iconic in stature and speaks specifically to the wide range of experiences that visitors to the Virginia Zoo have, from exotic animal exhibits to the park setting and gardens. Accessible to all ages, the artwork is grand, dramatic, gentile and fun, and layered with possibilities for deeper understanding.
Complimentary to the educational and conservation initiatives of the Virginia Zoo, the artwork aims to illustrate in a playful fashion our interconnection with all that is. The Greek word for butterfly is Psyche and it is the same word for soul. This transformative symbol entwined with the elephant, a symbol of wisdom, evokes the link between knowledge, understanding and compassion as we strive to develop relationships in accord with the world in which we live. Highlighting our diversity as well as our commonalities, from the largest terrestrial animal to delicate wind bound insects, there is recognition that what we do to each other, our planet and its diverse ecology, we do to ourselves.
“This project for the City of Norfolk and the Virginia Zoo provided a tremendous opportunity to reach a wide demographic with multiple layers of meaning. The metaphor can be stretched towards a moving beyond our perceived separateness and a realization that “I” and the other are one and of the same universal manifestation of life” Palmer stated.