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Invitation to an Insect Rendezvous

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

Leila Christine Nadir

They bite. They sting. They suck our blood. They can ruin agricultural crops, infest our kitchens, and chomp away at the foundations of our homes. And they are everywhere, crawling into the crevices of buildings, wriggling into our beds, hiding in dark corners. Insects, the most diverse and numerous organisms on Earth, comprise more than 10 million different species—perhaps, by some estimates, as many as 30 million. At any given moment, approximately one million trillion arthropods are creeping, burrowing, flying, and buzzing around our planet. For most members of the human species, these gazillion bugs are purely pests, best left unseen, and modern life has armed us with an arsenal of weapons—poisons, sprays, traps, zappers—to destroy them and, by extension, wipe them from our consciousness.

Despite most humans’ instinct to shudder at the sight of bugs, we need them. Entomologist E. O. Wilson writes, “If all humankind were to disappear tomorrow, it is unlikely that a single insect species would go extinct, except three forms of human body and head lice.” On the other hand, he continues, “If insects were to vanish, the terrestrial environment would soon collapse into chaos.” Without their services, flowers would cease to reproduce, most plant and animal species would go extinct, and humans would endure “widespread starvation” and “a tumultuous decline to dark-age barbarism … unprecedented in human history.” Wilson encourages us to put down our pesticides and change our attitudes: “More respect is due the little things that run the world.”

Transforming humanity’s vexed relationship to bugs has been one artist’s inspiration for creating a series of public art installations that encourage bugs to meet up, mate, and procreate. The pairing of visual creativity with scientific curiosity comes naturally to Brandon Balengée, who has exhibited his artwork in numerous presitigious galleries and public spaces throughout the world while also pursuing a doctorate in field biology. Ballengée constructs his installations out of eye-catching blue canvases, often shaped like insects or insect wings, and illuminates them by ultraviolet lights. As the sun sets, the structures begin to glow, attracting hundreds or thousands of nocturnal insects in search of a partner. Ballengée calls these artworks Love Motels for Insects, and he has designed them specifically to encourage people to watch the insects’ evening mating rituals.

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