No ants were harmed or force fed in the making of Elizabeth Demaray’s Corpor Esurit! The ants are now free scuttling around somewhere in the wild. The artist contacted us to point out that the Times review was a little misleading. Residually, my “Death by McDonald’s” post was… ahem… sensationalist. So, let’s rewind.
Curator Lauren Rosati assures, it wasn’t a “see what happens” experiment. The ants were harvester ants which normally eat seeds, fruit and plant material. In the McDonalds farm installation, the ants nibbled down apples, the seeds on the buns and the insides of chicken nuggets. Chicken nugget innards are largely corn, apparently. That says something about our food culture, doesn’t it?
It was all scientific and stuff. Corpor Esurit is about ant behavior, industrial food production and the food chain, as presented by invertebrate zoologists, entomologists and scientists that were consulting on the installation.
Also, the curator points out that the ants only live about 90 days. Elizabeth Demaray’s show ran for 70 days and it’s been a hot summer, so the few ant deaths were natural and in no way caused by methodical junk food gorging. That just happens to people.
I can see why the Times article would make you concerned. There are major factual errors in the review and much information on the project was not included.
I created this piece in consultation with Dr. Chris Johnson, a well respected animal behaviorist, and several zoological collections that keep ants. Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, the species that was actually used in the exhibition, are the ants of choice for commercial ant farms where they are typically housed without a queen or brood. They were chosen after careful consideration of their diurnal activity, foraging distance and nesting behavior, and of the wide array of seed foods and proteins they consume.
Funded by a grant from the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts in Buffalo, the exhibit is at eye height to facilitate first-hand observation of an animal that is rarely seen at an intimate distance. It features a climate-controlled nesting area and offers these animals ideal tunneling material and foraging space. Observational questioners filled out by viewers at the gallery indicate that the ants are healthy and actively foraging for wide array of food items, many of which are derived from seeds such as wheat and corn.
This piece is a consideration of industrial food production, the interconnected nature of our food chain and the plight of life forms, including us, in the face of changing food sources and habitats. All topics I would like to see addressed more often in art and in future sections of the Science Times.
Photo: Ants nesting, exclusive courtesy of the artist