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Invitation to an Insect Rendezvous

Artist Brandon Ballengée asks us to spend an intimate evening with bugs.

Leila Christine Nadir

Strangers in the Night

The project began as an informal experiment more than a decade ago. Impressed with the biodiversity of the local tropical ecosystem during a trip to Costa Rica, Ballengée decided one evening to leave some bed-sheets and battery-powered flashlights on the forest floor to see what would happen. The results shocked him. Countless beetles, caddisflies, ants, lacewings, and other species appeared, and female moths left behind what Ballengée calls “paintings”: luminescent trails of pheromones released to attract mates. He found the experience so moving that he set out to bring this spectacle to the public. With Love Motels for Insects, people all over the world have been able to experience the charming qualities of amorous little bugs.

Since his Costa Rica experiment, Ballengée has installed Love Motels in shopping malls in New Delhi, on a boat in Venice, beside Aztec ruins in Mexico, on London rooftops, in New York City’s Central Park, and in a range of ecosystems, including forests, mountainsides, bogs, and marshes. He admits that occasionally some visitors run away in fear when the insects begin arriving on the scene, but much more often, distress gives way to admiration, aversion gives way to awe. Everywhere a Love Motel appears, human beings, eventually, are just as shocked by the arthropods’ diversity and the unexpected beauty of their one-night stands as Ballengée was that night in Costa Rica back in 2001.

Click to Enlarge ImageAlthough the basic structure of Love Motels for Insects remains consistent, the installation never appears the same way twice. At each site, visitors observe local insect behavior and engage with landscape, biodiversity, and science in ways that are different every time. Sometimes the Motels coincide with festivals or concerts, picnics or film screenings. In New Haven, Connecticut, for example, Yale Peabody Museum scientists worked on identifying the mating insects while local artists created insect-themed graffiti. At each Love Motel, art and science collaborate, and bugs and humans come together, in recognition of the arthropods’ importance to life on this planet. The artistry extends beyond the physical object or installation, and beyond its visual beauty, into the unique events, interactions, and collaborations that result.

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