Art

Multiple Choice

Blogging has been slow this week as, among other things, I’m readying the final exam for Insects & People. Here is an excerpt from a practice exam administered earlier this evening:

In the absence of posting, I figured I’d at least offer some multiple-choice questions.

Insect Fear Film Festival 2012: International Ant Films

1st place t-shirt design by Rob M.

February is the most exciting time of year in Chambana, Illinois. Why?

The Insect Fear Film Festival, of course!

Doors open at 6:00 pm, February 25th, at Foellinger Hall on campus. This year’s theme is International Ant Films, featuring the awful-yet-inexplicably-awesome ant thrillers Glass Trap (2005) and Bone Snatcher (2003).

The film festival also hosts a living insect zoo, an art contest, face-painting, and more! Visit the event web page for details.

And one more thing. Not only is this year’s theme amazingly anty, the accompanying artwork is well above par. Students and postdocs held a t-shirt design contest and the entries have been particularly inspired:

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Is Ant Jesus Offensive?

Ants are in the news today.

Pogonomyrmex ants co-star with Jesus in “A Fire in My Belly” at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Institution has a new exhibit, “Hide/Seek”, that includes a short film of a tiny Jesus statue crawling with ants. Apparently the artist was exploring the angst of HIV infection in the context of Mexican culture*, or some such.

An impressive wave of public protest followed, and this morning the video was pulled. Seems people take easy offense at myrmecophilous Jesus.

I find the outcry puzzling. The point of crucifixes in general is to depict Christ’s suffering. Not just a gentle reminder, mind you. They are an in-your-face rendering of blood, guts, anguish, and pain. Jesus was beaten, spat upon, tortured, mocked, summarily nailed to a log, and strung up for an excruciating death by suffocation. If that wasn’t enough, then he was speared.

It isn’t as though Christian art tip-toes around this imagery, either. Christian- and especially Catholic- iconography has a distinguished tradition of graphically exploring the crucifixion.

Sometimes, “acceptable” Christian art is explicitly gruesome.

So, what is wrong with Ant Jesus?

thou shalt not mix thy savior with harvester ants?

As I understand it, “A Fire in My Belly” is about suffering from AIDS in deeply Catholic Mexico. Although unconventional, the piece is squarely in the tradition of Christian art- the crucifix as a medium for anguish- rather than a desecration of it.

update: Andrew Sullivan makes the same point:

The whole video incorporates the image of Jesus as a dying, tortured man like those with AIDS: “unclean” as the audio shrieks over the image, rejected, covered by insects. It splices that image with grotesque attempts to sew a loaf of bread back together, to sew a human being’s lips back together, along with desperate images of fire and decay. We are looking at the hysterical images of a dying man suddenly surrounded by the dying, overcome by the attempt to sew life back together. To see a rejected Jesus left on the cross and on the ground to be covered by ants, is, in this context, clearly neither offensive nor heresy; it’s orthodoxy, for Pete’s sake, with the death of Jesus one of countless images of suffering and isolation.

*incidentally, the ants used in the film are Pogonomyrmex harvester ants in the barbatus species complex. These are native to a part of the world where Catholic imagery is especially heavy.

Some introspection

This morning I see that The Dragonfly Woman- who writes one of my favorite insect blogs– has listed me as a top “Insect-Inspired Artist“. That’s quite an honor, especially considering the other talent on her list.

But, the notion I might be an artist never sat well with me. Artists project vision. Artists express personal and societal statements. Artists channel themselves through their medium. I often recall Andrew Wyeth’s 200+ paintings of his secret muse Helga, for example. That’s art.

What I do is far more mundane.

I am a collector. I collect images of insects.

Once I’ve captured a solid photograph of a particular species, my interest wanes. It’s in the bag. Time to move to the next ant on the wish list. That’s collecting, in pure form, unadulterated.

I suppose you could think of my methods as involving artistry. That doesn’t sit well with me either, though. A better word is craftsmanship. I am proud of my work, and it’s a craftsman’s pride. My collection of insect photos is, I like to think, well made. But it’s not art.

Bug-O-Lanterns: An Entomological Celebration of Halloween

Morgan Jackson's Astounding Jumping Spider

All Hallow’s Eve is nearly upon us, and you know what that means:

Bug nerds carving pumpkins.

Over at Biodiversity in Focus, Morgan Jackson is sharing some amazingly intricate, anatomically-correct ent-o-lanterns from years past. I’ve added a few more insect-themed pumpkins below.

If you’ve got a photo of a bug pumpkin, link it in the comments. I’ll put up a gallery on the 31st.

Lorenzo Rodriguez's braconid wasps attacking a caterpillar, Urbana, Illinois
Student-carved pumpkins at the Bohart Museum of Entomology (photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Maggot Art

With Maggot Art in the news again I thought I’d share an old painting.

How was it done? I dunked a few maggots in non-toxic paint, dropped them one by one on art paper, and they did the rest as they crawled away.

More samples from other artists here.