Augures D’innocence at Chateau de Chamarande will be closing at the end of the month. This is Ballengée’s first solo exhibition in France and presents a large survey of work that recounts the artist’s path since his exhibition debut in 1996. The exhibition was named after the poem Auguries of Innocence by William Blake written in 1803.
Selected work with artist notes:
“The images are representations of the first eight days of life of two species of amphibians. Wood frogs were once one of the most abundant frogs in New England. Over the past century populations have plummeted making wood frogs one of the more rare frogs encountered in the region and protected in New York State. Spotted salamanders begin their pilgrimage to breeding pools in the late winter. For the salamanders to successfully reproduce they need unmoving clean water that does not contain predatory fish. This species has declined because of introduced game fish that feed on mating adults and their larval offspring.”
Domaine de Chamarande Eco-Displacement
“This sculptural installation literally is a living cross-section of the nearby Cressonnière wetland. Such wetlands and the drama of the lives of their inhabitants is to most of us a mystery- the birthplaces of all life yet shrouded in the unknown and often the under appreciated. Here organisms (plants, animals, plankton) and found materials (detritus, water) from the Cressonnière form a freestanding ecosystem- displaced but functioning within a glass vitrine made originally to protect precious art objects. Within this vitrine, snails, fish, aquatic organisms become characters in a displayed theatre of live acting naturally- eating, breeding, living, dying and struggling as they would in the wild.
This work brings life into the Museum space- a place usually designated for art and human made artifacts, time-less objects associated with monetary value. This work asks what is the value of life, even if we don’t know of it’s existence nor does it have any monetary value- also how does the drama of actual living with constant change and struggle challenge our idea of enduring art? Following the exhibition, all organisms will be ceremonially freed back in the Cressonnière wetlands they came from.”
Historic Specimens from Collection du Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle de Paris
Malamp: The Occurrence of Deformities in Amphibians
“For more than a decade, a central praxis of my primary biological research and subject of my artworks has been the declines and potential causes of deformities among amphibian populations. As an artist and biologist, I have studied amphibians internationally involving collaborations with numerous other researchers and hundreds of participating members of the public.”
“Malamp Reliquaries and are created by chemically “clearing and staining” terminally deformed frogs. This process will obscures direct representation- as I do not want to exhibit large images of “monsters”, which would be frightening and be exploitative to the organisms. This process was followed by high-resolution scanner photography of each specimen to create individual portraits. These portraits will be printed as unique watercolor ink prints (IRIS) and each individual frog will be centered appearing to “float” in what looks to be clouds. This otherworldly quality will be reinforced by the titles named after an ancient character from Greek mythology. The titles were made in collaboration the Parisian poet KuyDelair and other collaborators over the paste several years. In the images the frogs are scaled so appear approximately the size of a human toddler, in an attempt to invoke empathy in the viewer instead of detachment or fear: if they are too small they will dismissed but if they are too large they will become monsters. Each finished artwork will be unique and never editioned, to recall the individual animal and become a reliquary to a short-lived non-human life.”
Installation: 9 preserved cleared and stained deformed Pacific Treefrog specimens on sculptural light box.
“Styx is a sculptural expression of complex sensations derived from finding the abnormal frogs in nature. Named after the legendary river from Greek mythology that moved between the worlds of the Living and the Dead. To create Styx, tiny actual specimens are carefully post-fixed cleared and stained and displayed on large dark structures- to resemble fallen obelisks. The specimens are small, out of our normal human-scale for bodily association, but through precisely illuminated glass dishes they become the ‘light’ and focal point. Viewed up close they resemble gems or the stained-glass windows found in some cathedrals. There is something familiar about them, enchanting but terrible.”
The Cry of Silent Forms
“To study deformed amphibians it is necessary to raise tadpoles in laboratory settings to monitor their development. For this research my colleagues and I have created experiments to better understand what is happening to amphibians in the today’s environments. This has involved growing tadpoles in the presence of predators, parasites, polluted water and sediments to monitor how the these environmental factors may impact normal development and contribute to deformities. Often in experiments tadpoles, are injured by predatory fish, insect larvae, parasites, even tadpoles attacking one another- these behaviors are natural yet in the lab we can record and analyze them to better understand what is happening in nature. Often these experiments are difficult to watch but imperative to understanding the cause or causes for amphibian deformations in the wild.
These films or works of “moving image” were all recorded within laboratories or during biological studies. Generally while performing experiments a researcher must focus on documentation, evidence collection and strict scientific methodologies. These recordings on the other hand are attempts to “preserve” finite moments that were outside of primary research. These ephemeral instants in time we as humans would not normally even notice. Likewise, while working in a laboratory as a scientist we must stay focused and objective however what we often see is incredible, beautiful, sometimes gruesome and tragic.
Even from a scientific distance research events have emotional resonance- these films attempt to bear witness to this complex psychological dichotomy and encapsulate the drama inherent to survival in hostile environments. For example, Prāṇa captures the throat of a metamorphic frog taking her last breaths before dying as a result of a predatory injury. For Origine du monde a “mother/father” leech gracefully fans her underside bringing oxygen to cloned offspring that are parasitizing her. In Consume once dossal toad tadpoles begin to attack one another in rampant unexpected cannibalism. These and the other short films (8 minutes each) intentionally lack narratives as they are moments captured and repeated, in an effort to make them timeless. The sounds for each film are streams, waterfalls or other forms of running water.”
Prelude to the Collapse of the North Atlantic
This work is a sculptural response to the global crisis of the world’s fisheries and the current threat of to many species found in the northeast Atlantic Ocean. Over-fishing, climate change, oil and other pollutants and overall habitat degradation are among the numerous factors that has lead to marine diversity decline. Likewise, these species declines alter natural trophic or food webs causing further impact to the natural function of aquatic ecosystems. Recent studies have shown in the world’s oceans every trophic level in the food web has been altered over the last two centuries. In addition upper tier species (top predators) are among those most currently threatened with extinction.
In the northeast Atlantic the European Environmental Agency (EEA) has reported that several popular seafood species are currently being fished out of biological safety limits, including Cod, Anglerfish, Hake, Mackerel, Sardine, Sole and others. The intergovernmental organization ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) has called for a 40% reduction in fishing fleets to reduce threats of species collapse. Of the approx. 1100 species of fish identified in the northeast Atlantic no one is certain the overall level of decline among all these populations.
This sculpture represents less than 5% of the overall biodiversity known to the northeast Atlantic. The specimen jars are meant to recall natural history collections as well as glass coffins stacked to create this massive pyramid. This pyramid attempts to represent both, the biological reality of northeast Atlantic trophic interconnection and visually recall the structures of ancient Egyptian and other tombs. Empty containers represent species in severe decline or those already lost to extinction.
Tears of Ochún
Cleared and stained Grass shrimp (Palaemonetes species) collected for the Gulf of Mexico in fall 2012.
Unique specimen as biological sculpture in a series of 500, examined as part a pilot study by the artist/ biologist.
“The 2010 Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill was the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. Literally billions of organisms were impacted. British Petroleum claims all is well but the Gulf ecosystems continue to show the devastating effects of the spill and teratological dispersants used to “clean” the oil. In the spring of 2012 (2 years after the spill and “clean up”) numerous cases of shrimp and other seafood with lesions, missing eyes and other abnormalities were found in fisherman’s catches.
For this pilot project, we examined and compared 688 Grass shrimp (Palaemonetes species) collected in the fall of 2012 from sites in Louisiana that were heavily exposed to DWH effluents compared to those sampled from sites in Florida with minimal exposure. All shrimps were analyzed for obvious developmental abnormalities and 500 were cleared and stained to further examine morphologies. The results of this pilot study showed that shrimps sampled from areas with direct exposure to BP pollutants had a ten-fold increase (79.4%) in abnormalities compared to those collected at sites with minimal exposure (7.6%). The Louisiana populations showed the most severe abnormalities, including a single shrimp, which appears to have developed ectopic limbs growing from the abdomen. Further research is needed to better understand the far-reaching impact of the BP spill, resultant high levels of deformities among Gulf wildlife and the potential impact they have for humans consuming them as seafood.”
“Committed offered rebuttals to claims made in BP advertisements. Here, scientific studies, government documents and other published materials factually contradict what BP has said in their commercials and other public relation attempts. Through the piece you see a complete collision of “realities”: On one hand you have the reassuring words of the carrying and apologetic former CEO Tony Hayward promising to “make this right” followed by visions of white sands with vibrant blue water, thrilled sunbathing tourists, thriving revitalized gulf communities and wildlife, even a recipe for succulent shrimp gumbo. On the other- the world of scientists, analysts and Gulf residents- you see a different picture reported, with damaged beaches with sands used to cover oil, delays in clean up and restoration efforts, cover up attempts for loss of wildlife, DWH effluents bio-accumulating into different trophic layers of the gulf food chain, health threats from consuming contaminated seafood, and an ongoing environmental catastrophe that has lacked systemic large-scale remediation.”
“Responding to avian species loss, I physically cut the birds from historic John James Audubon prints. Acquired over several years, original prints were chosen from the time when the depicted bird species became extinct. For example, in RIP Pied or Labrador Duck (2007) the birds were removed from an original 1856 Royal Octavo (hand-colored by one of Audubon’s sons) printed at the same point in history the actual species became extinct. The resulting image minus the subject is what I refer to as a framework for absence.”
“Charles Darwin enthusiastically began researching English pigeons in 1855. He studied, observed and even selectively bred them in experiments to create numerous color, shape, size and behavioral variations, determining that all fancy pigeons descended from the Columba livia, the common rock pigeon. This understanding of ‘artificial’ selection was invaluable to his later theory on species change in natural environments.
As an artist-in-residence at the Natural History Museum in London in 2003, I photographed ‘bones’ and ‘skins’ from Darwin’s personal collection of pigeon specimens. Later, the ‘birds’ were digitally collaged on backgrounds created from microscopic scans of medical cotton. The finished photographic works were printed in pigmented ink on watercolor paper. The intention was to recall 19th century paintings by J.M. W. Turner and others.”
Historic taxidermy specimens from the collection the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature displaced by the artist. Sound works by Andrew Diluvian.
1. Magpie. 2011. Sound work, 16 minutes.
2. Final Eye. 2012. Sound work, 8 minutes.
In Magpie, Diluvian uses digital techniques to crudely “cut into” and discard the sounds of extinct birds from a collage of historic field recordings. Only traces and the faint “edges” of bird sounds within these recordings may be heard, leaving the listener with an ineffective experience and a heightened awareness of absence. The extinct species used are the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, and the Kaua’i O’o.
Final Eye envisions a ragged landscape of memory within a dream being had by the last living bird of a species. All sounds in this piece are manipulated samplings of historic bird recordings.
“In Greek mythology the Ti-tânes or Titans, were the ancient primordial deities born from Gaia or Gaiê (Earth) and Ouranos (sky). The Titans in a sense were products of primordial nature and eventually overthrown by the Olympians (the more human-like gods represented in classical Greco-Roman mythology). This paradigm shift is a strong metaphor for our Western approach towards nature and the environment, a change from revering the natural world to anthropomorphic adoration which continues to drive human-centric exploitation of natural resources and other organisms. Although the Ti-tânes were defeated by the new human-like gods they survived banished to austere lands.
In the summer of 2012 pilot surveys at wetlands within the Domaine de Chamarande for amphibian deformations were conducted. At the Cressonnière ponds numerous common Toad tadpoles and young toadlets were found with missing hind limbs and limb segments. In addition to deformed toads we also found a heavy population of Nine-spined stickleback fish (Pungitius pungitius) inhabiting the Cressonnière. Although the Cressonnière receives direct run-off and shows signs of ecologically degradation, the stickleback population appeared to be flourishing. Stickleback are well known for their aggressive activity and in my prior amphibian studies in England and Canada I have seen them attacking tadpoles literally biting of sections of tail, eyes and limb parts. Did the stickleback cause the deformities among young toads in the Cressonnière? We still do not know and this summer we will create experiments to better understand if Nine-spined stickleback could be responsible for the amphibian abnormalities found in the park.
As artworks this series of began in 2012, where I have tried to select species that firstly are ancient (in the evolutionary sense) and secondly are able to survive (perhaps even thrive) in habitats environmentally impacted by human activity. Such organisms literally have endured for millions of years and now are adapting to today’s ecological degradation. For the works in this exhibition, three Nine-spined stickleback collected from the Cressonnière were chosen as subjects and carefully stained using Alizarin red dye, which adhered to bone then cleared using digestive enzymes to make surrounding tissues transparent. From the biological research side this was done to analyze specimens for any developmental abnormalities that in life we could not have seen. Secondly, this treatment was performed as an artistic choice- as clearing and staining is a way to change the way we are able look at such organisms, how we perceive them- they are abstracted yet made more clear. Next they were photographed on coal (literally fossilized carbon) meant to recall ancient life as well as changes to today’s climate made through the continued burning of such fossil fuels.
These artworks are meant as portraits of the individual fish, as each is unique as each of us. Through size (making them larger than life) they are scaled so the human viewer sees them at the magnitude the tadpoles would in the Cressonnière. Metaphorically they are meant to recall the ancient lingering nature deities surviving in banished now degraded environs. Viewed as skeletons they are not meant to represent death but instead life persisting in ecosystems made preternatural by human activity.”
“A tree from the grounds of the castle that was dying from being parasitized. Microphones dug into the surface of the tree capture the sound of water evaporating from the varied layers of wood tissues- as the cells dry they are dying- and I would like for viewers to be able to hear this slow process of a tree drying or literally dying from the outside inwards. This work is meant as a homage to Robert Smithson.”