Tasha Lewis strolls into the Monon Café with a plastic bin full of hand-sewn cyan butterflies. Dressed in denim shorts and a colorful blouse, she chooses a seat and begins attaching butterflies to the metal table.
Don't worry, she will take them back off again. This 22-year-old Indianapolis artist has a thousand butterflies that are part of her ever-moving guerilla art installation titled, "The Swarm."
The swarm of butterflies is a fluid piece of artwork that can be moved easily because each butterfly has a tiny, yet powerful magnet attached to it.
"It is transformative in terms that you come to a space and you can find something and stick them on it," explains Lewis. "It really becomes part of the environment. It becomes kinetic; you can move it and you can have people interact with it."
The Swarm has occupied a variety of locations throughout Indianapolis, adorning fire hydrants, fences and recycling bins. She sets them up, takes pictures, and keeps a blog called Guerilla Sculpture.
"I don't have anything against the gallery," she says. "I just like the challenges that the public art sphere makes you think about."
She has only been reprimanded for the installation once; by the Indianapolis Museum of Art when Tasha and her mom decided to adorn the LOVE statue, by Robert Indiana, with the Swarm.
"We tried to do it really fast because I knew it might be an issue," Lewis says.
Initially, everything was fine, but after she posted pictures to a guerilla public art blog in England, she was contacted by the museum, who informed her that she was in violation of their copyright on the sculpture.
"Apparently my butterflies didn't alter it enough to avoid copyright," Lewis says. "I'm sure if I could contact Robert Indiana, he would be fine with it. But of course, he currently doesn't own the rights to that sculpture. They are protecting it for him."
Tasha knew that she wanted to be an artist when she was pretty young, though she didn't always know she would be sticking magnetic butterflies on metal objects around the country. She was always interested in photography and grew up with a dark room in her basement. Instead of writing down times and trying to create the perfect picture, she was looking for ways to push the medium of photography. This led her to explore cyanotype, a photographic process that produces a cyan-blue print.
In her senior year at Swarthmore College, just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Lewis began to experiment with sculpture, in the fall of 2011.
"I had just been doing printmaking, photography, book making; mostly 2D work," Lewis explains. "Once I got to my senior year, we had a whole studio space to our self and we have the whole year to create a body of work for a show. So I was like, 'what can I do with this?' I wanted something more tactful, which made better use of the space, so I started making these sculptures and covering them with photographs."
Her first gallery show, titled "Naturae Curiosa" debuted in September of 2011. It featured spiders, fish and other animals, sculpted with newspaper, masking tape and cardboard. Once the animals were formed, they were covered with cyanotype photographs, giving their skin a realistic appearance.
To add further dimensionality, many of her sculptures appear to be coming out of the walls and others have animals transcending glass jars, with part inside and part outside.
The high powered magnets that she used for the butterflies have been a great inspiration for Lewis. These give her sculptures an almost indestructible status and makes them easy to assemble and disassemble.
The magnets that I use are super strong. The pieces that I attach them too are really light, so that means they can sit on glass without sliding either direction," she says.
Lewis originally discovered how useful the magnets could be by accident. While she was trying to mount one of her sculptures to the wall, a friend of hers, who is an engineer, suggested she use magnets.
"Once I realized I could do that, it made an interesting challenge," she explains. "What else could I do with it?"
Lewis has recently expanded beyond the use of cyanotype, opting to use Inkodye instead. The photographic process is essentially the same, but the use of Inkodye allows for colors besides blue to be incorporated. Using this dye and the powerful magnets, she sculpted orange fish that appear to be swimming through their fish bowl and an elephant whose trunk merges in and out of the wall as part of her "New Colors" show.
Lewis's work has been gaining recognition and this rising artist will be moving to New York City this month. She has a residency in Newark, New Jersey from August 2013 to February 2014 and has been given a generous 600 square feet of space to create new work.
"I have big aspirations because it is such a large space," she says. "My first project is to create a full-sized whale tail that is going into the floor of the gallery."
The tail will be covered with beads, embroidery, and photographs.
Despite her residency, she will not be gone forever. She'll be back in town in November for another show and who knows where you will see all those butterflies fluttering around.