Multihued translucent Plexiglas rectangles hang from the ceiling in Brad Troemel’s latest installation LIVE/WORK. They’re pleasingly abstract, reminiscent of sunsets and seashores, but look closer: each is a self-contained ant universe. The gel is edible for the ants, a commercial variant of NASA’s soil replacement, and as they tunnel and work they create patterns and movement in the art.
“Each team of ants is working on behalf of three not-for-profit organizations. The striped colors of the homes represent the colors of the not-for-profits’ logos. These organizations range from the Earth Liberation Front to Edward Snowden’s Legal Defense Fund to Planned Parenthood. At the end of this exhibition, each home’s piled up refuse from tunneling is weighed as a proxy for which team of ants did the most work digging. Whichever team’s displaced gel weighs the most wins the prize for their three organizations, splitting 10% of the proceeds from this exhibition three ways.”
The press release for the show is concerned mostly with the ants. “One must wonder – when will ant labor evolve to incorporate collaborative just-in-time tunnel building strategies, or even Fordist production lines?” It asks. “Are disruptive innovations even possible species-wide if made within isolated habitats? These are just some of the questions this generation of ants faces.” The questions are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but they raise other issues. If Troemel is relying on the ants to produce constantly changing works of art, what happens to his installation if they stop working? What if they die? The three large blank checks hang on the wall opposite the ants, underlining the financial impetus of the show. Living insects+art=profit. It’s an unusual equation, but a surprisingly lovely one. (Via Lost at E Minor)
Casa Tomada is a project of traveling installations started in 2007 by Colombian artist Rafael Gómezbarros in which giant sculptures of ants are fixed in swarms on buildings and structures. Self-described as “urban intervention” by Gómezbarros, the ants have been showcased in locations varying from London to Cuba with a very specific goal in mind: shedding light on immigration, forced displacement, and uprooting through historical points of departure for travelers and immigrants. The 2-foot ants themselves are crafted out of tree branches for legs and two joined skull casts made of fiberglass resin and fabric to make up the torso, making for a particularly morbid, visceral depiction of migrant workers in Latin America who are looked at as nothing more than vermin.
When placed on the facades of government buildings and blank gallery walls alike, the ants give off a chilling sense of foreboding and encroachment. By placing them in swarms, Gómezbarros makes the insects even more strikingly representative of the peasants displaced by war and strife in Gómezbarros’ native Colombia. The giant insects that make up Casa Tomada, which translates to Seized House, are certainly works that are bound to linger with viewers, whether in nightmares or otherwise.
Japanese artist Yukinori Yanagi uses a pretty unique technique in his work. For years now, he’s created custom ant farms with colored sand and used the natural lifecycle of ants to manipulate images rendered with the sand. His work using national flags is some of his best. Soviet banners assembled into a pyramid. Japanese Hinomaru fractured by tunneling ants. The strong symbolism inherent in banners and flags lends the work a lot of power. The ants show us that even things that once seemed unshakable are susceptible to decay and eventual ruin, even at the hands of seemingly tiny, insignificant forces. (via)