Artist's zoetrope animates the miraculous metamorphosis of the butterfly (Video)

Veerle Coppoolse
© Veerle Coppoolse

Butterflies are a perennial favourite insect for many people, thanks to their wonderful diversity of colour and form. Of course, they are also important pollinators, and they are also famous as masters of the miraculous transformation, owing to their incredible life cycle morphing from tiny eggs, into caterpillars, then into a cocoon, and finally into the beautiful butterfly.

Dutch artist Veerle Coppoolse captures this magical transformation of the butterfly in this handmade zoetrope that illustrates in moving three dimensions all the stages of its life cycle. As she recounts in the text below the video, the making of this sculpture corresponds to her fascination with butterflies and wanting to fly as one, as well as her own long transformation, recovering from a spine-shattering paragliding accident:

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Three years ago I broke my spine. I used to dream of being able to fly like a butterfly🦋, so I decided to take paragliding lessons. At the end of my first solo flight, the ground approached twice as fast as I thought it would, and instead of slowing down, I slammed into it at full speed. The result was a complex instable fracture of the first lumbar vertebra; a bone in the middle of my spine had broken into little pieces and had to be stabilized by an operation. When the surgeon in the hospital showed me a model of the spine, I knew that was what I wanted the caterpillar in the zoetrope I had just started designing to look like; like a crawling spine.🐛 First, I had to wait for 5 days while laying still in the hospital bed before they had a neurosurgeon available to do the operation. If I moved, it could cause nerve damage that could lead to paralysation. I was not allowed to eat for 5 days because my stomach had to be empty for the operation. When the day came, they cut me open, pulled the muscles on top of my spine to the sides, drilled holes in the vertebrae above and below the broken one, and screwed four screws into them, connected by titanium bars, that stabilized the broken bone. The cut was closed by 24 metal staples. I experienced the long recovery period in the hospital as a ‘cocoon phase’. It awoke a fighting strength in me and focussed me like never before. It felt like I was constantly climbing a mountain, while lying in the bed. After the operation, I had to pull together all the strength I had in me, to learn how to stand and walk again, and gain back the autonomy over my body that I had lost. To crawl out of the metaphorical cocoon after this transformative experience. Now I sit here, writing this, with my hair falling down my bare back, the ends tickling the big scar down the middle of my spine, that will always be there to remind me of the force I have within me.💙 I am now turning my transformative experience into a beautiful work of art. Please donate to help me build it and let everyone experience this story! Link in bio!✨ #beautifulbizarre #gothic #artnouveau #artistsofinstagram #metamorphosis #caterpillar #butterfly #zoetrope #3dzoetrope

A post shared by Veerle Coppoolse 🦋✏️🔮🍑🍦 (@veerlecoppoolse) on

As Coppoolse explains:

When the surgeon in the hospital showed me a model of the spine, I knew that was what I wanted the caterpillar to look like; like a crawling spine. I was shocked by the beauty of the bones; pure and elegant remainders of life. How they’ve grown and developed into a shape that perfectly complements its function. I’m inspired by how organisms in nature evolve in a way in which beauty and functionality complement each other; the beauty of human bodies, the function of butterfly wings. In this work, you can see equally elegant and functional shapes, both organic and geometric ones. Every element has a function; the angular shapes at the top of the cage are not just beautiful but also strengthen the shape.

Veerle Coppoolse© Veerle Coppoolse

Veerle Coppoolse© Veerle Coppoolse

Zoetropes are intriguing devices that pre-date animation; they create the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of drawings or photos that progressively go through the stages of some movement. Put together, it really looks like a film.

Here, Coppoolse's sculpture is made out of paper cuts, and is actually a model for larger version that Coppoolse is hoping to realize though the Dutch crowdfunding platform Voordekunst. Her aim is to build something life-scale on a slowly rotating platform, which visitors can then walk into, and have them be spun around some kind of graphical or sculptural sequence that will create the fluid animation of the butterfly's life cycle, rather than rotating the zoetrope itself. In an interesting twist that relates to Coppoolse's experience, the butterfly has a human skeleton for its body.

Veerle Coppoolse© Veerle Coppoolse

Veerle Coppoolse© Veerle Coppoolse

The idea is to create an immersive experience that links the struggles of the cocooning caterpillar with the viewer's own struggles in life -- the universal human condition. As Coppoolse notes, the making of this artwork also corresponded to her own path out of depression over her long recovery, of literally 'living' out the life experience of the butterfly:

The process of creation of this work is a personal and artistic growth process for me, just like the growth process the zoetrope represents. Every development comes forth from the one it precedes. It makes me realize that in this process of creation, as in every process in life, every phase needs its time and space to develop naturally and emerge from its cocoon. If you would take a butterfly out of its cocoon, she would not be able to fly. She needs the struggle of crawling out of the cocoon to let the force that will give her the strength to fly, flow through her wings.

Veerle Coppoolse© Veerle Coppoolse

To see more, visit Veerle Coppoolse's Instagram and Facebook, and to help crowdfund the building of the Metamorphosis Zoetrope, visit Voordekunst.

Artist's zoetrope animates the miraculous metamorphosis of the butterfly (Video)
Inspired by her own spine-shattering accident, this sculpture shows the struggle and transformation of these remarkable insects.

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