Jungle Journal, V.2

By    Monday March 12, 2012


Greetings from the jungle of screaming monkeys, love struck cicadas and well-camouflaged snakes. It’s great to be back on the Osa Peninsula, working again with leafcutter ants, my vegetarian collaborators in this eat-and-be-eaten habitat. Ok, they have scissors for faces, but they don’t bite, sting, or spray formic acid like other ants do. Beware, though, if they judge you illegally parked on their superhighway, they’ll attempt to cut you into little bits and quickly move you out of their fast lane.

I’m here to finish the last two videos of “The Leafcutters” project. “War” follows an enormous soldier ant, dubbed Goliath, as she goes off to battle and is torn apart by dozens of little Davids. It’s gruesome. The tiny ants latch onto whatever appendage they can grab; their strategy is to not let go. Those scissor-like jaws make perfect weapons. As more ants bite into Goliath the battle becomes a rolling ball of seething bodies. In the morning after – they don’t fight every night – I find piles of dead ants. 

In “Antworks,” the colony strips a tree bare and puts on an art show with the little pieces they cut. Who is to say they are immune to the aesthetics of their labors?  The plant they selected from over a dozen varieties I offered them looks an Abstract Expressionist painting with wild bursts of color and stripes and enough spots to rival DamienHirst’s latest. The middle section of the video is a time-lapse sequence of the ants stripping the tree to its bare bones (you can see this scene on my website). This year I’m working on the ant’s art show finale. The video still included here is one of the ants parading with their artwork. I can imagine Jerry Saltz and the judges of Bravo’s art reality show rating the merits of their work.

Catherine Chalmers holds a B.S. in Engineering from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in Painting from the Royal College of Art in London. She has exhibited her artwork around the world, including MoMA P.S.1, New York; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC; Kunsthalle Basel; Kunsthalle Vienna; MOCA Taipei; among others. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Time Out New York, ArtNews and Artforum. She has been featured on PBS, CNN, NPR, and the BBC. Two books have been published on her work: Food Chain (Aperture 2000) and American Cocroach (Aperture 2004). Her video “Safari” received a Jury Award (Best Experimental Short) at SXSW Film Festival in 2008. In 2010 Chalmers received at Guggenheim Fellowship. She was an Artist-in-Resident at Pilchuck Glass School in the summer of 2011 and is currently an Artist-in-Resident at Imagine Science Films, an organization focused on the intersection of science, film and art. Chalmers lives and works in New York City.



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