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Invitation to an Insect Rendezvous

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

Leila Christine Nadir

Hatching New Discussions

As much an experience as a physical installation, Love Motels for Insects works in the tradition of the 1960s Fluxus movement—an art movement that tried to break art out of the closed “white cube” of the gallery and into the public arena, often outdoors, where it could start discussion and stimulate the imagination of people on the street. Fluxus artists claimed their work had no singular mission, no specific message to disseminate; instead, they were attempting to create experiences, or “happenings,” that opened up participants’ eyes in some way. The artists left it to their audiences to decide what had occurred in the process.

2014-03ArtsLabFp148top.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageTo understand Ballengée’s Love Motels as part of the Fluxus tradition, German artist Joseph Beuys’s concept of “social sculpture” is particularly helpful. For Beuys, society is one artistic medium among many. The idea of social sculpture includes “how we mold our thoughts or how we shape our thoughts into words or how we mold and shape the world in which we live.” For Beuys, this type of art transforms the artist from his traditional definition as a creative genius into a facilitator of transformative events and interactions—just as Ballengée does each time he sets up a Love Motel. The artwork, rather than being a static object, becomes an opening of new possibilities and new ways of thinking and seeing.

As social sculpture, Love Motels for Insects sways the Fluxus impulse toward ecological concerns and scientific inquiry, engaging the public to challenge perceptions of insects as dirty pests. At the Love Motel installed in Delhi, India, Ballengée worked with local collaborators to create bilingual placards displaying statistical research that demonstrated the ecosystem services provided by insects: dragonflies as mosquito control, bees and butterflies as pollinators, praying mantises as predators of crop-eating insects. Many passersby were surprised to discover that creatures they had regarded as lowly and inconsequential provided such effective and sustainable alternatives to chemical pesticides.

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